On December 1, 2004, the U.S. NOAA National Weather Service published a Final Version of the Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information, providing formal basis for distribution of weather information, climate information, forecasts, and warnings in XML format to the public.
The National Weather Service (NWS) operates under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the U.S. Dept of Commerce. The new NOAA Policy responds to recommendations contained in the National Research Council's Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services document and to terms specified in OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources." The new Policy takes into account 1,473 comments on the provisional Policy draft released in January 2004.
Section 5 of the NOAA Policy, "Commitment to Open Internet-Based Standards for Information Sharing," addresses the need to move away from "community-unique data formats" used previously to distribute NOAA environmental information: "for those not already using them, learning and developing programs to access these community-unique formats is a formidable task, both in learning about the formats and in creating custom code to process them, since few resources are available. The use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and other open standards lowers the barriers to entry in the commercial marketplace, as pointed out in [the] comment from the Center for Democracy and Technology."
NWS "provides access to gridded forecasts of sensible weather elements (e.g., cloud cover, maximum temperature) through the National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD). NDFD contains a seamless mosaic of digital forecasts from NWS field offices working in collaboration with the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)."
Experimentally, NWS now publishes data conforming to the National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD) Extensible Markup Language (XML). NDFD XML "provides users the ability, using a machine-to-machine paradigm, to retrieve the XML-wrapped data via the Internet. This web service is provided using the SOAP protocol. The weather parameters contained in NDFD XML are the same as those in the NDFD." These features, some further parameterized, include: Maximum Temperature; Minimum Temperature; 3 hourly Temperature; Dewpoint Temperature; 12 hour Probability of Precipitation; Liquid Precipitation Amounts - Quantitative Precipitation Forecast; Snowfall Amounts; Cloud Cover Amounts; Wind Direction; Wind Speed; Sensible Weather; Wave Heights.
The NDFD XML service, which is defined in a Service Description Document, provides NWS customers and partners the ability to request NDFD data over the internet and receive the information back in an XML format. The request/response process is made possible by the NDFD XML Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) server. In addition to the SOAP technology, this service exploits XML to enhance the ease with which NWS customers and partners can integrate NDFD data into their computer applications. The NDFD XML language is called Digital Weather Markup Language (DWML) and its schema can be found online. The DWML specification provides a new XML language which is being developed "to initially support the exchange of the National Weather Service's (NWS) National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD) data. However, the specification has been written with enough flexibility to accommodate other environmental science applications. Appendix E provides a definition of DWML types based on restrictions appropriate to NDFD data.
As rationale for the Partnerships Policy's renewed commitment to open Internet-based standards, the text cites a comment from Ari Schwartz, Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology: "Open standards are the key to future openness in the marketplace. In particular, the use of XML based standards offers an unprecedented opportunity. While shutting down new XML data feeds in favor of proprietary standards may please some companies in the private weather sector today, the end result will be a less diverse and less competitive market by restricting the creation of specialized weather products, tools, and models in the academic and private sectors. Improved data access benefits all sectors in the weather enterprise by maximizing the affordability, availability and usefulness of NWS weather information services to a large population and will open opportunities for business plans that can not even be predicted today...The public has already paid for NWS data and information products through taxes that subsidize its research, data collection, and product development activities. Taxpayers should not be charged again to access publicly funded observations, analyses, model results, forecasts and related information products."
The new NOAA NWS policy "applies to provision of all National Weather Service environmental information, including forecasts, warnings, and observations. This Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information will strengthen the partnership among government, academia and the private sector that provides the nation with high quality environmental information."
From the NOAA Policy on Partnerships
From Section 5 of the Policy, "Commitment to Open Internet-Based Standards for Information Sharing":
"... OMB Circular A-130 requires that Federal agencies make their information available in commonly accepted formats and distribute it over publicly accessible means, such as the internet.
In the mid-1990's, the internet became a primary dissemination method for public information of all types. NOAA has contributed through hundreds of websites that are accessed by millions of citizens. By 2004, more than 6 million citizens access NOAA websites daily to view NOAA data with much higher peak use, e.g., during a hurricane, and NOAA processes some 200,000 online requests each year for historical climatological data.
NOAA environmental information has historically been made available in formats that are unique to the community using the information. These community-unique formats are widely known and used, and some of them are international and/or interagency standards. As a result, there is considerable inertia to continue NOAA information in existing formats, and in any case, this policy requires "orderly processes for seeking input and suggestions to... discontinue products and services."
However, for those not already using them, learning and developing programs to access these community-unique formats is a formidable task, both in learning about the formats and in creating custom code to process them, since few resources are available. The use of
ExtensibleMarkup Language (XML) and other open standards lowers the barriers to entry in the commercial marketplace, as pointed out in this comment from the Center for Democracy and Technology:
"Open standards are the key to future openness in the marketplace. In particular, the use of XML based standards offers an unprecedented opportunity. While shutting down new XML data feeds in favor of proprietary standards may please some companies in the private weather sector today, the end result will be a less diverse and less competitive market by restricting the creation of specialized weather products, tools, and models in the academic and private sectors. Improved data access benefits all sectors in the weather enterprise by maximizing the affordability, availability and usefulness of NWS weather information services to a large population and will open opportunities for business plans that can not even be predicted today. We hope that the NWS will adopt policies supportive of technical capabilities that allow users to access information directly through standardized formats and believe that the NRC document created a reasonably clear roadmap to reach this goal." [Comment #1444]
Several commenters expressed an interest in XML services, and NOAA/NWS has experimented with several XML based services, e.g., NOAA's new digital weather data that provides forecast information at a 5x5 kilometer resolution. See Experimental National Digital Forecast Database XML Web Service. Results have been promising. For example, 80 percent of citizens who responded to a survey ranked ease of use of one NWS XML service seven or higher (scale of 1-10).
In addition to XML, NOAA is also using other commonly accepted formats, including open geographic information system (GIS) protocols and formats, wireless device formats (WAP/HTML) and email (SMTP) to disseminate data. Use of these formats meets the requirement of OMB Circular No. A-130. Other OMB Circulars, such as OMB Circular No. A-16, which is aimed at creating a nationwide spatial data infrastructure, also apply in some cases..."
- "NOAA Issues New Partnership Policy. Response to 'Fair Weather' Recommendations Strengthens Relationships Among Government, Universities and the Private Sector." Announcement December 01, 2004.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Environmental Information
- "OMB Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources"
- Comments on NOAA/NWS Policy on Partnerships in the Provision of Weather, Water, Climate and Related Environmental Information. See the text in PDF format [source].
- "Who Owns the Weather?" By Ari Schwartz (Associate Director, Center for Democracy and Technology). From Center for American Progress. July 28, 2004.
- Recent news articles:
- "Weather Data for the Masses." By Daniel Terdiman. In Wired News (December 4, 2004).
- "NOAA Pledges to Better Disseminate Weather Information." By Kimberly Palmer. From GOVEXEC.com (December 9, 2004).
- Digital Weather Markup Language Specification. Version 1.0. [cache]
- Experimental National Digital Forecast Database XML Web Service
- National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD) Extensible Markup Language (XML). [cache]
- ndfdXML. See the WSDL.
- National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD)
- Experimental Listings of Watches, Warnings, and Advisories by State and Territory. "NWS watches, warnings and advisors, listed by state in three different formats. Select a state name to view a list of active alerts in your web browser. These files are updated about every two minutes. Select a state name to see the list for a state. RSS and CAP/XML lists are provided to aid the automated dissemination of this information."
- Current Observations, XML data feeds. Experimental XML Feeds of Current Weather Conditions. This page provides access to observed current weather conditions for about 1,800 locations across the United States and US Territories.
- Listing of change notices for NWS XML services. Also available as an RSS feed.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- U.S. National Weather Service (NWS)