04 June 2018

Forecasts and their Value

Economic Value of Weather and Climate Forecasts, Richard W. Katz and Allan H. Murphy, editors, 1997 includes some hard core math.  But the idea explored is straightforward enough, and much of each paper included is spent on the considerations which direct the mathematics, so you needn't be up on the math to gain from the reading. 

Fundamentally, a forecast has zero economic value if it can't be, or isn't/won't be, used to increase a profit or reduce a loss.  The value lies in the decisions which can be (and are) made based on the forecast, and not the forecast's accuracy (abstractly considered) itself.

On an extreme example, the value of climate forecasts to James Inhofe is zero.  There is nothing, given his public statements, he would do in response to a climate forecast (regardless of how good) differently than with no information.   Also limited value of hurricane forecasts 5 days ahead to Rush Limbaugh, who dismissed (September 5th, 2017) the (extremely accurate, as it turned out) forecast of Hurricane Irma's landfall in Florida on the 10th.  On the 5th (follow link to news story with the details), he was dismissing the forecast as fake news / liberal conspiracy, and advising his listeners to ignore the forecast.  On the 8th, just 2 days ahead of the storm, he evacuated from Florida.  Given his listeners and advertisers, it may well have profited him to delay response.  People who couldn't evacuate because they listened to him for too long, different matter.

But it illustrates a different issue -- lead time and actions.  If you don't (can't, won't) do anything differently with 5 days' lead time than with 2 days' lead time, there's no value to you in the extra lead time for the forecast.  Scientists, of course, are very interested in the difference -- the better we understand hurricanes, the better (farther ahead) we can predict them.  But that's hard to put a dollar value to.  For me, certainly, 5 days lead time in knowing a hurricane is coming is far better than 2 days.  It gives me time to prepare the house for the winds and waters, and to make a considered retreat (meaning no traffic jam) outside the range of the hurricane.  With just 2 days warning, that becomes hard to do.  On the other hand, it would be no more helpful to me to know of a hurricane coming in August 16, 2019 than to know of one coming August 16, 2018.  And August 16th is probably no more useful to me than July 16th (from my vantage of June 3rd).

There are people and interests other than me and mine, however.  Home supply and repair stores, for instance, might profit greatly from knowing that they'll need a large stock of material and staff prior to a particular date.  Or even just that odds are higher than usual that their area will have a hurricane.

What are some weather or climate decisions you make?  How much difference does the accuracy of the prediction make?  How far ahead does it matter for your decisions to have the prediction?

27 June 2017

Satellite Data

We've passed the 50th anniversary of the first meteorological satellite*, on to 60! Even though satellites have been used for decades, it's still far from simple to do so. Or, rather, it is much more involved than I used to think. I suppose it shouldn't really have been a surprise. Automated weather stations on earth have plenty of problems, and they're operating at earthly temperatures, near somebody who can fix minor problems if they occur, and do so before they become major problems.

By way of my day job (again, I do _not_ speak for my employer), I use satellite data and do so heavily enough that I'm on the mailing list for operational updates about the current status of the satellites, data receiving stations, and other parts of the system between my desk (well, the supercomputer at work) and the satellite.

One thing which has really impressed itself on me is that there is far more to satellites than launching them and waiting for lovely data to flow forth. Second is that there must be a large number of very highly skilled people working between the satellite and my desk to ensure that the data flows reliably, at high quality, and in a timely fashion.

Fortunately, though I'm about to name some challenges and problems, they're _known_ problems and challenges, with solutions. Engineers don't like leaving problems standing. Problems are things to be solved! So, a few stories:

26 January 2017

March for science

Dates to be determined, but there is an effort developing to have a march for science in the US.  There's a facebook group, and facebook messenger at @marchforscience, twitter as @ScienceMarchDC, and the main web site.  Things are evolving rapidly, having started very recently and now being over 90,000 in the facebook group.  One change being that it has moved from being a march by scientists to being a march for science.

Something which occurs to me as useful to know is senators and representatives whose states or districts have large numbers of scientists or companies which do large amounts of science or contracting.  Some which occur to me:

Some Large Centers
(Places, Senators, Congressperson)
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD -- Chris van Hollen, Ben Cardin --  Steny Hoyer (MD-5)
NOAA Headquarters, Silver Spring, MD -- Chris van Hollen, Ben Cardin -- ?Jeremy Raskin
Argonne National Lab, IL --
NASA Marshall, Huntsville, AL --
NASA Ames, CA --
NASA Johnson, Houston, TX --
Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, NM --
National Hurricane Center, Miami, FL --
National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, OK --
National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC --
Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA --

Companies that build earth satellites:
Boeing (HQ in Seattle, WA, but many other offices) --
Lockheed Martin (HQ in Bethesda, MD, ditto) -- Chris van Hollen, Ben Cardin --
Orbital ATK (HQ Dulles, VA, ditto) --
Space Systems Loral (HQ Palo Alto, CA, ditto)


I've missed many areas, please add to my list.  Also, please work on adding to the list of states and congressional districts.  I expect that every state and most congressional districts have at least one large employer which depends on science.  It helps to have names and places.

02 May 2016

Recent Reading

If you hadn't noticed last time I wrote about my reading, I enjoy reading old books, and books about old things.  One of the interesting, to me, things about math/science/engineering is that it is incremental.  Each generation builds on what the preceding generations learned or accomplished.  Related truth is that I can read some of the best work from all people, across all of time.  Books are my time machine.

Richard J. Gillings, Mathematics in the Time of the Pharoahs, Dover Books. 

Ed. T. L. Heath, The Works of Archimedes, Dover Books.

Tacitus, The Agricola and the Germania, Penguin Classics.

Craig Martin, Renaissance Meteorology: Pomponazzi to Descartes, Johns Hopkins University Press.

A. S. Kompaneyets, Theoretical Physics, Dover Books.

Michael W. Shaw, Kids and Teachers, Tardigrade Science Project Book, Fresh Squeezed Publishing.

17 April 2016

2016 Tough on Sea Ice Satellites

The last several weeks have been hard on the satellites people like me use most for determining sea ice coverage.  We use passive microwave instruments on a number of different satellites.  The 'passive' in its name means that it doesn't emit microwaves.  It just sits back and collects the emissions from where it's looking.  In this, the instrument is rather like our eyes.

Different centers use different instruments and different combinations of instruments.  The main ones are:
SSMI on DMSP F-15, launched on 12 December 1999 (pushing 17 years!)
SSMI-S on DMSP F-16, launched 18 October 2003 (pushing 13!)
SSMI-S on DMSP F-17, 4 November 2006 (almost 10!)
SSMI-S on DMSP F-18, 18 October 2009 (approaching 7)
SSMI-S on DMSP F-19, 3 April 2014 (only 2)
AMSR2 on GCOM-W, 18 May 2012 (nearly 4)

A word about the names.  SSMI is Special Sensor Microwave Imager.  'Imager' is the key word.  With satellites, 'imager' means that the instrument is designed to be able to see (mostly) the surface.  Handy for us sea ice people.  DMSP is the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program -- the US Department of Defense operates these satellites.  SSMI-S (or SSMI-SU) is the SSMI -- Sounder (or Sounding Unit).  Means that in addition to the regular SSMI observing of the surface, it also carries some sensors that can do 'sounding'.  Sounding is to see what's going on in the atmosphere rather than mostly the surface.  (Name comes from the weather balloons -- which collect data known as soundings.)  AMSR is Advanced Microwave Sounding Radiometer.  It's operated by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA).  The advance is that it is able to see more detail and the much older designs in the SSMI and SSMI-S. 

So, to our stories of woe.  All of these instruments are designed for 5 years' operation.  F-15 giving (mostly) good data after 17 years is spectacular for this type of satellite.  Notice that most of these potential data sources are already past their design life.  Since February 2016:

F-16: the sounding channels quit working early February
F-17: April 5th data quality impaired on one of the surface imaging channels, data volumes sent are greatly reduced.
F-18: Mostly ok, but reduced volume of data.  Many orbits' data not making it through.
F-19: Data ceased flowing February 2
AMSR2: Data outage afternoon of April 15th through morning of April 16th.

F-15, the oldest of the crowd, is still sending basically normal data volumes at basically normal volumes.

So, hiccups all around the sea ice analysis world.  The NSIDC was using only the F-17 SSMI-S, so has to rebuild their system to work with another instrument.  The AMSR2 temporary outage affected some centers seriously as they relied only on that instrument.  The US NWS uses both F-15 and F-17, and so far seems to be ok.  I haven't checked the operating status of the OSI-SAF sea ice (European analysis).  If I remember correctly, they also use more than one instrument, so should also be ok.

More gory details below the fold ...

15 April 2016

Autism Awareness Month, 2016

A heads up that it's autism awareness month again.  Autism hasn't changed much in the past year, so I don't have much new to say.  My 2015 post covers what I have to say myself.  In brief: people are people, including autistic people.  People are all similar, because we're people.  And people are all different, because we are people.  All of this applies to autistic people too, no more, no less.

13 April 2016

Chapter one and Ted Fujita

Dr. Tetsuya Fujita, a.k.a. Ted, a.k.a. Mr Tornado was a meteorologist who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago.  When I was in graduate school, I was down the hall from him and a friend (Eric) was one of his students.  One day, Eric told me a Ted story.

Dr. Fujita held up a book on fluid dynamics (one of the central subjects for studying meteorology) and said to Eric "See this book?  I only know chapter one."  (maybe it was 'use'.  Been a few years.)  At the time, I thought it was more than a little exaggerated.  And it probably did have a fair amount of exaggeration (Ted wasn't above such things).  But, as I've continued my career and studies, I see more and more truth and wisdom in that comment.

I don't know about that particular book.  But as I re-open math and science books I read years or decades ago, I'm continuing to find meaning and importance very early in the text.  Not because I didn't learn enough of the early chapters to do well in class and tests, or to be able to apply the knowledge in later years at work.  Rather, because as I've worked more on the subject, or learned more outside it, I see that there are more and more connections to 'chapter one' material.  In that case, there's a lot of merit to looking back at chapter one and seeing how much deeper a knowledge I (you too, probably) can get from the later viewing.

11 April 2016

Recent reading

I'm a bookaholic, I confess.  I have far more books than are strictly needed.  And I'm acquiring more essentially all the time.  (The freebies available via google, ibooks, kindle, nook, and many other venues don't exactly slow down my acquisition.)  On the other hand, I do eventually read them.  From recent (-ish) reading:

Hands on Meteorology by Zbigniew Sorbjan -- a book with something of everything for meteorology and middle school students (or older).  Some history, some biography, and a substantial chunk of hands on meteorology.  Plenty of experiments that you can do with minimal experience and equipment. 

Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving, Sanjoy Mahajan -- To get through to the end of this book, you'll want at least integral calculus.  But I mention it here because a) some of you have that background and b) those who don't: consider the title.  You can choose to consider mathematical problem solving as being something like a mixed martial arts, steel cage, match.  No holds barred either.  While math is often taught as a matter of exactness, and the one and only one correct answer, there's a broad swath in which coming up with a pretty good approximation is an excellent thing.  In practice, this is an enormous swath of science*.  See also my old post Fermi Estimate Challenge.

Native American Crafts and Skills, 2nd Ed., David Montgomery -- It's easy to make, say, a house when you already have plans, bricks, saws, (pre-cut!) lumber, plumbing, electricity, and so on.  But what do you do when you only have stone tools?  How about when you also have to make the tools themselves?  There's some serious intelligence involved in solving these problems.  This book has some of the solutions.  In a few cases, such as the shape and orientation of a Tipi, there's also a connection to meteorology and climate.

What We know About Climate Change, Kerry Emanuel -- This is a far smaller book than I expected from the title.  It also includes no math.  It's a good place to start reading on climate.  It won't take you long, and won't bury you in detail or math.

More to come ...

* Post to come about Ted Fujita, and his 'chapter one' rule.