MetService 'blocking data' to rival WeatherWatch

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 29/08/2014
Philip Duncan
Supplied
WeatherWatch head weather analyst Philip Duncan.

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MetService has been accused of jeopardising public safety by blocking up-to-the-minute public weather data to a rival forecaster.

Philip Duncan, head analyst of WeatherWatch, has criticised the state forecaster after it began enforcing its policy of sharing only three-hour-old data with the private forecaster, which Duncan said limited his real-time interpretations of data and affected his clients, who included farmers, pilots and small businesses.

Duncan has been a long-time critic of MetService, and said its data-blocking ran counter to international practice and local Civil Defence policy of sharing data to be as well prepared for severe weather as possible.

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He has mounted a campaign to lobby for public support and claims the state monopoly is acting like a private corporation and jeopardising public safety by withholding data.

MetService has rejected the claim, saying: "As a responsible company, public safety is the highest priority for MetService. For Mr Duncan to accuse us of anything otherwise is scurrilous."

MetService is the most commercially focused government-owned forecaster in the world, funded through commercial contracts with government and revenue from other commercial activities.

In the 2013 financial year it more than doubled its profits to $2.7 million from $1.1m in 2012.

Communications manager Jacqui Bridges said MetService had no policy of limiting or blocking data to any competitor or business - large or small - and that commercial data was available under licence.

Forecasts and official weather warnings were provided back to the public in accordance with MetService's contract with the Ministry of Transport.

Although MetService is the prime agency for weather warnings, Auckland Council also has a contract with WeatherWatch. The council's Civil Defence boss, Clive Manley, said limiting the flow of data could have implications for public safety.

"We would support a more open data approach in the interests of public safety.

"Strong economic decisions are based on weather data and people should be able to get good, up-to-date advice, including WeatherWatch," Manley said.

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But Bridges said Duncan and the council had an agenda of self-interest, given their commercial relationship.

She said WeatherWatch's claims confused public weather data and public weather safety information.

"All public weather data is freely available to anyone for viewing on MetService websites. WeatherWatch's - or anyone else's - use of public weather data for commercial purposes is not the same as the public having access to the information, and to our expert interpretation of it, for their safety."

Climate scientist and former forecaster James Renwick said MetService's profit-driven agenda was set by the Government, which was ultimately accountable for stemming the free flow of public data.

"In principle, this information should be freely available to everyone," he said.

In a recent comparative study conducted by The Dominion Post, WeatherWatch, with just two fulltime forecasters, managed to be as accurate - and in some cases more accurate - than both Niwa and MetService.

- The Dominion Post

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