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.