- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

LONG BEACH, Calif., Feb. 12 (UPI) — The head of a major private weather forecasting firm, citing the dangers of information leaks and insider trading, urged the federal government to tighten up the way it releases predictions that directly affect business decisions worth trillions of dollars.

Joel Myer, the president of AccuWeather, told reporters Wednesday that energy, agricultural and insurance businesses were increasingly tied to sophisticated weather data that the National Weather Service was handling in a manner that was vulnerable to favoritism.

"Giving forecasts for some agricultural interests and not others, favoring one media outlet over another, or tipping off certain financial interests about upcoming official weather forecasts, warnings or outlooks shifts billions of dollars within the economy by favoring one business and penalizing another," Myers said at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in California. "None of this is the proper role of a government scientific agency and it provides unfair advantages in the marketplace."

With an estimated $2.7 trillion of economic activity influenced by the weather, Myers said that industry-specific forecasts should be released at the same time to everyone, in the same tightly controlled manner that Department of Agriculture crop reports, Labor Department employment statistics and Department of Energy fuel inventories are issued.

"The advance delivery of weather information to one sector of the economy, or to a friend, relative or favored contact or business in a way that may move financial interests clearly creates serious issues of insider trading and improper influence," he warned.

The NWS was not immediately available for comment.

Myers said a study issued in late January by the National Research Council bolstered the view of his company that Congress should take steps to require "the fair and nondiscriminatory release of uniform warnings, forecasts, and outlooks nationwide and in all regions of the country."

The NRC report noted that a 1991 policy established by the NWS called for a "private-public partnership" that to some meant the government would no longer issue the types of sophisticated forecasts that private companies could do while charging customers a fee.

The scientific panel noted that such a separation of duties was impractical due to the overlapping need of the NWS to compile data for storm warnings and other forecasts that might conflict with energy and agricultural forecasts.

"It is counterproductive to set detailed and rigid boundaries for each sector outlining who can issue particular forecasts or products," committee Chairman John Armstrong said when the NRC report was released Jan. 30. "Instead, efforts should focus on improving the process by which the private and public providers of weather information interact."

Myers said his company, which boasts 16,000 subscribers, was prepared to work with the NWS on new guidelines for forecasts and called in the meantime for an immediate policy that would prevent NWS employees, their friends and family from improperly benefiting from weather forecasts.

"Leaking economically important official weather information to certain interests before it is released to the general public and selective disclosure of observations, data and forecasts can and does have serious economic consequences," he said.

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