Storm Clouds on Weather Service Horizon

If you want a weather forecast, you can go to the National Weather Service’s very good Web site – – click anywhere on the map of the 50 states and get a detailed, seven-day forecast along with radar and satellite images.

And why not? You pay for it with your tax dollars.

But the Web site could be in danger, along with other Weather Service functions, under a bill introduced this month by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. The measure would bar the National Weather Service from providing, or assisting other entities in providing, a service or product “that is or could be provided by the private sector.”

There are some exceptions, but basically the Weather Service would be restricted to issuing warnings and forecasts for severe storms that threaten life and property. In other words, the Weather Service could go on predicting the weather but only tell us about it when it’s bad.

Santorum’s bill is based on the premise that the federal government should not do what the private sector is capable of doing, and one of the largest private weather services, AccuWeather, is based in the senator’s state.

The wording of this law seems vague enough that it would invite litigation, and that clause about “assisting other entities” could be interpreted to apply to the news media that use Weather Service materials.

Since the Weather Service generates data used by private services _ and would continue to do so under this bill _ it’s hard to see why for-profit companies should have access to taxpayer-paid data unavailable to the rest of us. The bill could also be read as forbidding the Weather Service to post data and forecasts on the Internet, a giant leap backward technologically.

Free and easily accessible weather forecasts are a legitimate function of government. Let the people at the National Weather Service keep calling them as they see them.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)