One answer to forecasting extreme weather

Approximately 24 minutes. That's roughly the amount of time that the residents of Joplin, Mo.

Approximately 24 minutes. That's roughly the amount of time that the residents of Joplin, Mo., had to prepare for the oncoming tornado that ripped through the town. Tornado Alley residents are used to the sirens, I suppose, but I'm sure that someone in my own town would react totally differently. I mean, I wonder how much time the folks in Springfield, Mass., had this week when a much smaller tornado touched down in Massachusetts. Who expects a tornado in Massachusetts?

Yet, extreme weather is apparently something that Americans need to think about living with. It even made the cover of Newsweek, which has penned an article about our need to adapt to a "warmer, wilder world." I'm sure that article will prompt a whole flurry of teeth-gnashing about the myths of climate change. But, fact is, we humans are subject to the whims of the weather and we need to get better about knowing what it might or might not do. So it is fitting that Earth Networks has just announced new forecasting technology that it hopes with provide us with more advanced notice of major heat waves and cold snaps. (Although not necessarily the sorts of violent storms that have taken such a dreadful human and economic toll this year.)

The new technology, called TempRisk, is made possible through a collaboration between Earth Networks (the developer of the WeatherBug service) and EarthRisk Technologies, an analysis company born out of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. The application is focused on energy companies and utilities that could use the information to help better manage energy resources.

In the press release for the service, EarthRisk Founder and CEO Stephen Bennett noted:

"When it comes to predicting extreme weather, the past is certainly paramount. Our process for linking past weather patterns to future weather extremes had an 80 percent hit rate in the winter of 2010-2011 for part of the United States. Advanced indications of extreme weather events are critical for energy traders, energy analysts, utilities and others with a vested interest how weather impacts commodity markets and resource planning."

For example, the companies said that TempRisk predicted the record cold-air mass affecting more than 80 million Americans in December 2010 about 20 days closer to its arrival.

You may be a skeptic, as I am, about the accuracy of forecasting services, but eventually the science will get better and Earth Networks is definitely a company to watch in this space. I wrote four months back about its monitoring networks, which it will use to measure the affects of climate change. The latest partner in that rather ambitious project is the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). NIST is interested in much of the data that Earth Networks is gathering; the two will collaborate on measurement and observations of carbon dioxide and methane trace gases on a "regional-to-local scale."

Here's the rationale, as explained by James Whetstone, special assistant to the director, Greenhouse Gases, NIST:

"NIST is developing new tools and capabilities to measure the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, to determine their movement through it both locally and regionally, to attribute emissions to sources, and to assess the portion that is man-made. By collaborating with Earth Networks in this research effort, NIST can take advantage of private sector capabilities and expertise to gain a better understanding and evaluate the certainty of the measurements, models and data derived from a geographically dense network of greenhouse gas observing stations."