AccuWeather CEO – And Trump Nominee – Has Helped Build Forecasting Enterprise

accuweatherFive months after his nomination by President Trump, AccuWeather CEO Barry Lee Myers is still waiting to be confirmed by Congress as the new under secretary of commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the meantime, Myers and his brother, Joel Myers, chairman and founder of AccuWeather, continue to build the company as a trailblazer in the weather-forecasting industry in both technology and information conveyance. Nearly two billion people worldwide rely in some way on AccuWeather to know what to expect outside each day, each week and beyond, and the company serves nearly half of the Fortune 500 and thousands of other businesses.

Joel Myers founded AccuWeather in State College, Pa., in 1962 and Barry assisted him as the company grew, for 15 years also serving as a business professor at Penn State University. Since Myers became CEO in 2007, the company’s biggest-grossing years and period of biggest audience growth have occurred.

Similar to how entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos finally broke the U.S.-government monopoly on space travel, the Myers brothers effectively wedged the wonders of private enterprise into a weather-information domain that was completely a government enterprise to begin the post-war period.

“It’s not the fault of government but when you add the creativity of the private sector that isn’t bounded by appropriations, you can do those kinds of things.”

“We essentially sold at first against information that was free from the government,” Barry Myers recalled. “People would say, ‘Why should I pay you?’ We were able to show that weather isn’t a commodity and that there are different quality levels of information specific to a business or a person or an activity – and that we could improve the accuracy and extend the forecast out further than the government does.”

One of AccuWeather’s newest services, for example, is Minute Cast, which “works on your precise latitude and longitude to tell you within the next two hours if rain is going to begin there at a given moment,” Myers said.

“It’s not the fault of government but when you add the creativity of the private sector that isn’t bounded by appropriations, you can do those kinds of things.”

And whereas in the early days of AccuWeather about 95 percent of the data it worked with was government-generated, now up to 98 percent comes from private sources. These sources include airplanes, satellites, ground-based weather stations and other information points, Myers said. More raw data of any type streams into AccuWeather headquarters than into any other location in the world.

“We did this without any cost to the government or subsidies or payments from the government,” Myers said. “We simply piggy-backed on the public information that the government had, which in the United States belongs to the people – and where you can develop products and services from it.

“And we have actually saved the government a fortune,” he said. “The government would have had to spend billions more to do what’s done today in the weather industry, and we have generated a viable, vibrant industry that pays taxes and provides lots of jobs.”

All of which will give Myers a strong vantage point if he’s confirmed as the new NOAA head. His confirmation hearing was November 29 but, like many Trump appointees, actually getting a vote on his candidacy has been slow.

In the meantime, Myers has had time to muse on one issue that certainly he would confront: the politicization of information about weather events and climate. Every major storm or temperature anomaly is a candidate for being cast by progressives as related to climate change, and for rebuttal by conservatives as weather-as-usual. And some weather-forecasting brands use a decided climate-change filter for all of their coverage.

“We know [the] climate has been changing for a good long time,” Myers said. “The debate is how much. And to what extent are humans involved in that?” Different interpretations of weather events by various media, he averred, “are what a free society is all about.”

When it comes to weather, Americans of all political stripes might actually agree on one thing: It could still be more accurate. With all of the terabytes of data being generated daily, why does weather forecasting so often still seem unreliable, people might ask?

“Compared with 10 years ago,” Myers said, “it’s much more accurate – and compared with 50 years ago, it’s like night and day. But because it happens day in and day out in people’s lives, it’s looked at differently.

“The reality is – did you even get into a swimming pool and notice all these little eddies in the water, then dissipating? That’s what the atmosphere is like. And the most sophisticated math equations that humans have ever written are designed to understand and predict where those eddies are going to form and go, because those are in essence – in the atmosphere – the storms.

“So if you look at it that way, we’ve come up with models that actually do a pretty good job of that.” He cited modern hurricane tracking versus that of decades ago, when “a coast could be hit by a hurricane that no one knew even existed.

“Now,” Myers said, “it’s a lot better than you think.”