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Changing Winds for Open Data at the National Weather Service

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, May 25 2012

Preview of weather.gov

The National Weather Service is going to update its weather alerts for the 21st century.

Weather data has long been held up as a prime example of how government data can spur private enterprise, as an entire industry has evolved to interpret and package meteorological data coming from government sources. The Weather Service is working on adapting to a new version of the Common Alerting Protocol, an XML-based data format used for communicating emergency alerts, including NWS watches, warnings, advisories, and special statements.

The format the Weather Service uses for communicating many of its notices to private weather enterprises has traditionally been all-uppercase missives with messages separated by ellipses.

"It's been a challenge for private weather enteprises to grab that data in any way to add value by repackaging it and selling it in the form of apps," said Susan Buchanan, spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Now it will be a lot easier for developers to make applications," updating a process that has existed since the age of the teletype, she explained.

Currently the National Weather Service is using version 1.1 of the CAP, which has some of these capabilities, but plans to upgrade to version 1.2 by June, she said. The Federal Communications Commission has set a deadline for June 30,2012 for participants in the national Emergency Alert System to have the ability to receive CAP messages. Buchanan said an initiative to offer emergency alert notifications for cell phones is related to the transition.

Weather.gov is also currently undergoing a redesign in an effor to make the website more user friendly.

The existing design had existed for about 10 years, according to Bradley Akamine, project manager of Weather.gov. The redesign is focused on improving the navigational scheme, and will allow users to get more information more efficiently, he said.

Based on usability testing, the redesign also aims to take into account the ways that meteorological terms the NOAA uses internally differ from the meaning terms may have for the average user, as the site aims to serve both the general public and the emergency management and meteorology community Akamine said the work on the redesign has been going on for the past year, with a roll-out planned for the summer. The redesign has received 35,000 public comments since it has been out as a preview site. While the official public commenting period ended May 10, comments are still being accepted, he said.

Earlier this week, federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel announced new guidelines for federal agencies online, including a requirement that agencies provide access to certain "high-value" datasets via application programming interface and to provide more data structured in formats like XML.

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