Expert Report

When Weather Matters: Science and Service to Meet Critical Societal Needs (2010)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Weather matters for life, health, safety, property, and economic prosperity. Weather forecasts provide information that people and organizations can use to enhance these societal benefits and to reduce weather-related losses. Investing $5.1 billion annually in public weather forecasts and warnings has brought an estimated $31.5 billion dollars in benefits. Yet between 1980 and 2009 there were 96 weather disasters that each cost more than $1 billion—and cost many lives. This National Research Council report puts forward the most pressing high level, weather-focused research challenges and needs to transfer research results into operations. Cutting across these challenges are socioeconomic considerations that are fundamental in determining how, when, and why weather information is, or is not, used. The report calls for a partnership of social scientists and meteorologists to ensure that weather research and forecasting meet societal and economic needs. The report also identifies predictions of very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and weather information for renewable energy development as important emerging issues in need of greater research to develop understanding and reach implementation. Priorities among established—or recognized but unrealized—goals include global non–hydrostatic coupled modeling; quantitative precipitation forecasting; hydrologic prediction; and mesoscale observations.

Key Messages

  • Filling key gaps in the socioeconomics of weather will substantially benefit the weather community, a broad range of users, and, more importantly, society at large. Priority topics requiring attention are estimating the value of weather information, understanding its interpretation and use, and improving communication of information.
  • Over the past decade or so, several research and transitional needs have been recognized as increasingly important. Understanding of these issues, and implementation of results, remains in the early stages. These emerging priorities include: very high impact weather, urban meteorology, and renewable energy development.
  • There are multiple research needs and goals for transitioning research into operations that have been recognized for some time as important, yet still need attention from the weather community. Achieving these goals will require input from social scientists and will result in significant societal benefits. These established priorities include: global non-hydrostatic coupled modeling; quantitative precipitation forecasting; hydrologic prediction; and mesoscale observations.