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Weather Data Available in XML 198

Posted by michael
from the stormy-weather dept.
wombatmobile writes "Wired reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week began providing weather data in an open access XML format. Previously, the data was technically available to the public, but in a format that's not easily deciphered. How will the free and easy availability of valuable data like this in XML affect the development of the web? One example is Tom Groves SVG weather. This type of visualization of XML data is about to fall within easy reach with nothing more than a text editor required as an authoring tool. From March 2005 SVG becomes part of the standard Mozilla/FireFox build. As an example of how web standards are supposed to work, what more could you hope to find?" We mentioned the policy change a few days ago.
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Weather Data Available in XML

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  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @07:29PM (#11003874)
    This is a trend. OpenGIS has proposed open XML data for a while. Hopefully a lot more data will be exposed this way, making true "internet apps" in the future.

  • Weather Market (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @07:39PM (#11003935) Homepage Journal
    I want to see independent organizations datamining the NOAA weather data, running their own models, and making competing predictions. Then I want to see metaminers generating comparative "batting averages", keyed to current conditions, and get my weather forecasts from a client which knows which service is better at predicting the next few days/weeks/months starting with current conditions. That will give weather stenographers like the Weather Channel, and their TV news echo chamber, a real run for their money. Forecast@Home, anyone?
  • by Space cowboy (13680) * on Sunday December 05, 2004 @07:40PM (#11003937) Journal
    Not that I [hostip.info] have anything to do with a geolocation project, you understand [grin]

    I did a pilot test for the Weather Xchange folks a couple of years back, and was monitoring the temperatures around the UK and making mpeg movies of location-averaged temperature snapshots - a bit like time-lapse photography. I've just moved to the US and the computer with the movies is on a ship somewhere, but it did look pretty cool (no pun intended :-) to see patterns of hot and cold move around the country over time...

    Simon.
  • by chrisspurgeon (514765) <chris.spurgeonworld@com> on Sunday December 05, 2004 @07:54PM (#11004008) Homepage
    This makes me think, there must be piles of academic and government-funded data out there free for the taking. Sure would be nice if there was some central listing of sources of free data. Anyone ever come across anything like that?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @07:56PM (#11004016)
    Konqueror seems to display SVG pretty well...
  • Re:Why SOAP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jdludlow (316515) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @08:13PM (#11004091)

    SOAP uses HTTP as a transport layer option (usually). The reason why the added complexity is worth it is because it allows client applications to do things like "float temp = weatherSerivce.getTemp(cityID);" much more easily. (Note: I completely made up that example, but it's similar to what would actually be used.) The point is that the client doesn't really have to know and/or care that "weatherService" isn't a local call. The client also doesn't need to care that it's running Java locally and the server is running .NET (or whatever else it might be using).

    SOAP is just a piece of the larger and much more complicated Web Services unbrella. Understanding all of the specs involved is a huge task, but you can do some client-side tutorials that will explain quite a bit of the basics anyway. Most of the real work is done on the server, so if you ignore that bit of it to start with, the learning curve isn't anywhere near as steep. The Apache Axis [apache.org] project is a decent starting point, if you just want to play around with the technology. Installing Axis into Tomcat is about a minutes worth of effort, then you can spend hours exploring the various documents, examples, and tutorials.

  • METAR isn't that bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ari_j (90255) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @08:35PM (#11004203)
    Previously, the data was technically available to the public, but in a format that's not easily deciphered.

    Presuming that this is a METAR replacement, then the format that was "not easily deciphered" is not really that bad at all. For the stuff that anyone reading Slashdot from under FL180 cares about, it's downright human-readable.

    Of course, if my presumption is wrong (the article didn't appear clear at first glance) and this is for predictions of future weather rather than reports of current weather, then ... neat. :)
  • by s7uar7 (746699) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @08:39PM (#11004236) Homepage
    This Google search [google.com] (filetype:xml site:.gov) turns up a whole bunch of files, so there's definitely a lot out there, same with a .edu search. It just needs someone to check what it all is. This isn't meant as a 'Google is your friend' post by the way, I was just interested to see.
  • by jesterzog (189797) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @09:07PM (#11004394) Homepage Journal

    It'll be easier to parse, but it won't be any more accurate.

    I think it depends on your definition of accuracy. For me at least, I don't usually bother with the specific predictions for anything more than this afternoon, and then usually only having checked what that forecast is based on. I think specific predictions are only provided to satisfy the people who demand definite and specific information without detail and regardless of accuracy, anyway. If you don't judge weather reports by the exact timing of events, and instead utilise the information they can provide about what's actually going on in the weather system, you might find them to be much more trustworthy and useful.

    I think the most useful part of weather reports is the contextual information provided with satellite pictures and diagrams about where all of the fronts, high and low pressure zones, and so on, happen to be. It's not always possible to predict when a particular front will roll over causing a thunderstorm, but it's often possible to predict that it'll happen at about the time a high pressure zone has moved out of the way to let it through, which might be quite likely to happen "within a day", for instance.

    Changeability of weather varies in different parts of the world, and perhaps we get a lot more of this information here than is handed out in other parts of the world. (New Zealand is apparently one of the more volatile areas in terms of changing weather.) Unfortunately the only overseas weather reports I'm familiar with are global reports on international TV channels like CNN, and they give virtually no contextual information besides current weather and temperature.

    Are local reports in other places much more detailed about the actual weather system, or do they just dish out specifics without context day after day?

  • by opec (755488) on Sunday December 05, 2004 @09:19PM (#11004479) Homepage
    I don't get it. I've been using this service for MONTHS now.

    Mine: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/data/current_obs/KBWG.rss
  • Just a note (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 05, 2004 @10:03PM (#11004678)
    This info has been available since earlie this year. I have been running programs taking advantage of both the NDFD's 7 day forecast available via soap and NWS's current obs available by regular xml over http. NOAA really does alot of neat things and works hard to make them publically usable. Glad this came up.

    Nothing of importance to add, just that NOAA is working to make this stuff work for everyone (hence see the wed story about noaa going vendor non-specific).
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday December 06, 2004 @12:03AM (#11005292)
    Quoth the Wired article:

    Weather-industry companies were promoting the idea that the government restrict special interests that have the ability to pay for the data -- like Major League Baseball teams or citrus growers -- from acquiring it for free, [Barry Myers, Exec VP of AccuWeather] said.

    But isn't fair and equal access to information something the government *should be* supporting? Who cares if MLB or the citrus industry get weather info for free? If, as a side effect of providing weather info to the general public, MLB is able to improve their entertainment value and US citrus farmers are able to improve their crop, isn't that a bonus? It's virtually impossible to subsidize industry in this WTO day and age, so indirect (and free!) benefits like this are a good thing.

  • by ragnar (3268) on Monday December 06, 2004 @12:30AM (#11005378) Homepage
    I had a friend who worked with the National Weather Service at the Department of Agriculture. You might find his explanation of this service interesting. He was often called upon to verify or negate rumors about blizzards or various weather calamities that may have been perpetuated by rivals. In effect, a banana exporter may find it profitable if people think the supply is in danger from foul weather. His group made sure that US importers didn't pay any fraudulent premiums by monitoring weather around the world, not just in the United States.
  • Re:Why SOAP (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mkgray (4935) on Monday December 06, 2004 @02:00AM (#11005689)
    As others have pointed out, they do have RSS feeds, but that's not quite the same as a straight HTTP interface to the same queries they expose via SOAP.

    I wrote a gateway. I wrote a simple description of the HTTP interface gateway to the NOAA SOAP interface [mkgray.com] on my site.
  • by CC12123 (443428) on Monday December 06, 2004 @02:22AM (#11005745)
    I've seen a lot of hating on the Semantic Web the past few weeks, but a lot of support when things like this come out. If you check out the definition of the Semantic Web [w3.org], you'll find:
    The Semantic Web provides a common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.

    This is exactly what NOAA did with their weather data. It is a common misconception that the Semantic Web is supposed to be some gigantic cross-reference, or that AI weenies think it will solve all of our problems. Imagine a web where everyone publishes data in a common format, and everything can be re-used. Want to drop weather data into your app? Just add a few lines of code. Now that's powerful.
  • by randyjparker (543614) on Monday December 06, 2004 @10:37AM (#11007185) Homepage
    It is called the Global Forecast Center (GFC), and it includes the use of a system called Dicast.

    For the last 25 months, TWC has produced its own forecasts by doing pretty much what the parent suggests: using its own computers to compare the current forecasts of the 'first principal' weather simulations produced by government supercomputers. The GFC then weights the forecast of each model by its historical accuracy for the weather situation it is modeling at each location, and produces a 'meta-forecast' for that loc.

    Dicast was produced largely through US Government funding, but TWC has also spent very large sums of its own money to finish it up. I beleive TWC is the only private company to help fund Dicast development.

    TWC first implemented Dicast for on-air / web forecasts when you saw the new "Global Forecast Center" background on their studio TV set. That moniker was not some puffed-up marketing. The GFC (using Dicast) is a very big deal, and nobody else supplies forecasts from it. The shift from NWS forecasts to GFC forecasts took years to implement, and impacted dozens of TWC internal systems. Here is the offical realese from 11/11/2002:

    GFC Now Generating 36-hr. Text Forecasts

    Early last week, we successfully executed a switch from a National Weather Service (NWS) generated 36-Hour Forecast to one prepared by the Global Forecast Center (GFC) on all legacy Star platforms of the core network. With the replacement of the NWS text forecast on the WEATHER STAR® III, 4000, and Jr., the entire suite of local weather forecast products is now prepared by the meteorological staff here at The Weather Channel. The official NWS watches, warnings, and advisories of all types will continue to display on all WEATHER STAR® units.

    One additional change that has been implemented since that announcement is the deployment of the new IntelliStar® real-time television rendering systems in more than 1,000 locations around the USA. The IntelliStar uses heuristics to adapt the Local Forecast at each individual location to the actual weather situation. For example, the Radar loop is abbreviated if there is no rain to show. (TWC uses a variety of WeatherStar devices at almost 10,000 locations to produce the Local. No other television network does anything even remotely comparable. Developing, deploying, and maintaining 10,000 TV rendering systems scattered around the US ain't cheap!!)

    TWC has roughly one hundred staff meteorologists that manually review and adjust the Dicast output, particularly when the 'first principal' models are prone to miss some physical discontinuity. (for example, most models can't simulate hurricanes at all)

    The NWS has far more meteorogical staff in its field offices, and they continue to provide an invaluable service for the nation. Computers and private companies can't replace the expertise of the NWS Field Office meteorologists and their $820M budget(FY2004).

    My point is that it is unfair and inaccurate to lump TWC in with 'the weather stenographers'. TWC really does spend a lot of effort and money to produce a value-added weather product. The folks here are more serious about accurate weather prediction than most outsiders would believe.

    (This post is my personal understanding and view, not an official TWC release.)

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