End of golden weather forecast for state service
The weather wars are on again as two publicly funded forecasters go head to head in a battle that some say could kill one of them off.
MetService and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research have clashed before, with observers saying there is no justification for funding both of them.
The latest clash began last month when Niwa, which has traditionally focused on long-range climate research, launched a rural web service for subscribers, as well as Niwa Weather - a free public forecasting website for urban centres.
Philip Duncan, head analyst of rival private forecasting company WeatherWatch, said the move spelled the end of MetService.
"Niwa are five times bigger than MetService - the writing's on the wall. In the long run, Niwa will absorb MetService, and that's what should happen. Merge them as one and we'll save money and have better forecasts."
Victoria University climate scientist James Renwick, who has worked for both organisations, said it was in the national interest for the services - which had been kept separate since Niwa was formed in 1992 - to join forces.
It was "crazy, inefficient and possibly destructive" for such a small country to have two taxpayer-funded enterprises competing in public forecasting.
"It does seem like a really poor use of taxpayers' money. It just seems really bizarre."
In 2006, government concerns that a lack of co-operation between the two organisations was harming weather forecasting prompted a recommendation that they should merge.
In 2007, they agreed to work more closely on forecasting weather, climate and severe events such as snowstorms and floods.
Climate scientist Jim Salinger said the latest antagonism was worse than in 2006. "Now it's going off the tracks again - unless they're together it'll just keep happening."
Both organisations were doubling up by vying to provide the same services, he said. Niwa's satellite receiver in the Wellington suburb of Maupuia had been duplicated by MetService, which earlier this year installed a very similar one at its Kelburn headquarters.
Niwa chief scientist Murray Poulter said there was no conflict, and the two agencies were moving in different directions.
MetService communications general manager Jacqui Bridges said it could not comment on questions of inefficiency. MetService worked closely with Niwa at a "collegial level on the global science scene".
"It's not like we're at daggers with them. We're competing around the world in forecasting, so we're used to competition."
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce said he understood Niwa and MetService had "largely different customers and different approaches to their provision of forecasting . . .
"MetService provides general weather forecasting to many users on a commercial basis, while Niwa's new system is much more localised, providing services to individual properties or areas such as vineyards and farms."
STATE OF WAR
A Crown Research Institute, it gets core annual government funding of $40 million, with $60m coming from commercial enterprises. Must return a dividend.
A profit-driven, state-owned enterprise, funded through commercial contracts with government and revenue from other commercial activities. In 2012, its operating revenue was $42m.
The Dominion Post