National Weather Service ‘running out of bandwidth’ — how could this affect broadcasters?

The Washington Post reports that the is “running out of bandwidth” and has announced it is holding a public forum on how to mitigate the issue — which could lead to limiting access to its data.

The move could affect numerous weather apps and companies that rely on NWS data to deliver forecasts and other weather information, including TV stations and media outlets’ mobile apps.

In the memo the NWS issued announcing the forum, it mentioned limiting a specific user to 60 requests per minute, though it is specifically labeled as an “example.”

The example doesn’t mention if this limit would consider a single app a user or count each individual person with the app as a user, however, rate limiting models typically use a unique key or code to determine the “user” requesting it and applies this definition at the application level.

Because the information generated by the NWS is government funded, the information is generally considered to be in the public domain — and there are numerous companies and organizations, both non-profit and for-profit, that have built services around the raw data.

In many cases, these services use the data to as a component to generate other data or information — such as by feeding the data into computer models that can attempt to predict how atmospheric and other conditions will affect the weather in a specific location.

In addition, many media outlets and standalone apps are tightly integrated with NWS feeds that are used when weather watches and warnings are issued.

For example, many TV stations use technology to detect when a NWS warning or watch is issued for regions in its viewing area and use that to trigger an on screen ticker, map graphic or speech to text that is inserted over whatever programming is on the air at the time.

In addition, broadcasters typically rely at least partially on this data to determine if or when to break into programming with full severe weather reports.

Obviously, this type of information could literally save lives but it’s not immediately clear how or if the suggest change, if adopted, might affect these types of alerts.

TV and other media outlets also frequently tap into the nationwide network of government owned radar stations — sometimes even going as far to brand them under a station related name such as “Super Doppler 5” even though they don’t have direct control or ownership over them.

Even if stations own a private radar tower, they often pull in radar data from nearby NWS installations to supplement and illustrate radar activity outside the range of its owned tower — or create the appearance of a network of radars.

Again, however, it’s not immediately clear how radar access could be affected by the suggested change, if at all.

Meanwhile, some of the sources The Post talked to are questioning why the system isn’t leveraging more modern cloud technology to increase the capacity of its systems.

While the NWS says it is in the planning stages of exploring these options, it also says that demands on its servers is difficult to predict.

Read full story »