Environmental Business

Weather is Serious Business, Explains AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers

BLMACCUWEATHER CEO BARRY Lee Myers is an award-winning leader in global weather information and one of the world’s most recognized advocates for cooperative relationships between government weather agencies and the weather industry, as well as a leader in the digital weather information space. Founded in 1962 by his older brother, Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather is relied on every day by a billion people worldwide to help them plan their lives and protect their businesses.

“We have the best tornado prediction capabilities and numerous times have warned plants or shopping centers of tornados where they weren’t in tornado warning areas and saved hundreds of lives,” explains Myers. “There was a manufacturing plant a few years ago in Mississippi, outside a city with no tornado warnings. In the middle of the night in February, we warned them 25 minutes in advance as the tornado appeared to be heading right at them. They evacuated 88 people, and the plant was entirely destroyed, leveled, but not a single person was killed or even hurt. We’re always trying to improve our hazard notification capabilities.”

AccuWeather provides hourly and Minute-by-Minute™ forecasts with Superior Accuracy™ for any longitude/latitude on Earth, and customized content is available on smartphones, tablets, free wired and mobile Internet sites, as well as on radio, television and in newspapers.

COMMERCE spoke with CEO Barry Lee Myers about his work with government leaders, advances in weather forecasting and the new digital technologies AccuWeather is using to decode Mother Nature’s secrets. Here are his observations and insights.

AWpc1 resizedForecasting. “Weather forecasting has evolved over the past two decades. There used to be three-day forecasts and, when AccuWeather first started, we had a five-day forecast; everyone said the science didn’t support it, but we thought it did. Soon after, everyone was doing the five-day forecast, and we did a seven-day and they said the same thing, and so on. The further out from the present you forecast, accuracy degrades because the atmosphere is complicated to model and to understand.”

Testing the Limits. “We offer a forecast out to 45 days on our Web site—you shouldn’t expect the 45th day to be as accurate as the first, but it helps people if they’re planning something and can track the forecast as it gets more refined and targeted.”

Tracking Precipitation.
“AccuWeather acquired a company in Canada that developed a way to predict the start and end of precipitation at any location, down to the minute, over the next two hours called MinuteCast(R). It’s on our Web site and available for mobile devices, and it’s extremely accurate. The people who created it weren’t meteorologists, but they understood other aspects of science and pattern recognition and used existing technologies no one had put together the same way before.”

More Accurate Data. “The advances in weather forecasting are due to many things—satellites that see and monitor things remotely; good radar systems on the ground; good computer models, and good computers to run those models on—all things that 20-30 years ago didn’t exist. The technology is what drives the improvement in forecasts— without it, you couldn’t process the available information in the time needed. These models of the atmosphere are some of the most complex mathematical models humans have ever created. You can measure and see things with computer images, but trying to predict where everything is going and how strong it will be is a hefty computer modeling mathematical process.”

AWmobile2 resizedNew Technologies. “There are all kinds of technologies being developed. Currently, a number of private companies are considering launching low-level private satellites that are smaller and less expensive to provide information about the atmosphere to improve short-term forecasts. We see more crowdsourcing of information through social media techniques. There are many devices that can measure weather parameters; virtually every car today measures the temperature. If there’s a way to communicate those measurements to a central database for analyzing, you can see micro-climates where the temperature may be below freezing and there’s ice, so we can determine the location for advanced warning of dangerous conditions. Technology is driving all kinds of advances in forecasting in ways we hadn’t imagined and probably haven’t yet imagined.”

Protecting and Serving Businesses. “A significant part of our company is called AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, which works with major companies throughout the world to provide pertinent weather information, whether it’s to protect facilities or plan inventory or analyze consumer trends in different weather circumstances. It’s a host of services tailored directly to businesses, utilities, transportation companies and the like.”

Accuracy Plus Understandability. “We provide information in a way that resonates. Using an AccuWeather app, there’s a much greater chance you’ll understand the forecast quickly, and it will be clear what time precipitation will start or temperatures will drop. We have a whole cadre of computer artists and social media experts whose skill sets ensure we produce an understandable forecast to the public in an effective and efficient way. That’s one of the secrets to our success—marrying accuracy with understandability.”

d1 resizedAdvantages vs. Competitors. “Minute-by-Minute is being distributed on digital media devices and our Web site. AccuWeather’s forecasts in the United States and globally are the best that exist: we’ve trademarked the term Superior Accuracy™, a result of computer systems and algorithms we’ve evolved for forecasters and output that goes from computers directly to people; it’s the best forecast that exists. We run studies evaluating them against our competitors around the globe and almost universally come out ahead. It’s proprietary technology we’ve evolved and continually work on because a forecast is only as good as its accuracy. Our apps are the best in the marketplace and we keep a tight view of our public rating to ensure we’re delivering what people need, want, and how they use it. We focus on the communication aspect of our apps and our Web sites with AccuWeather.”

Working with Governments. “I’m on the board of the American Weather and Climate Industry Association, a trade association for weather companies where I’ve been the government relations officer for almost two decades. I’ve worked with Congress and a number of different administrations, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service. Over the years, both the government and industry, led by AccuWeather, have realized not only are they co-dependent, but both have roles to play to maximize the value of weather data to the American people. The government has core infrastructure, develops computer models and gets warnings to people to protect lives and property. Weather companies provide some of these services, along with the daily forecasts and information displays you see on your devices. Overall, it’s an excellent cooperative relationship.”

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