The National Weather Service wants to seriously throttle data usage on their websites

This slide from a National Weather Service conference call in early December of 2020 was the shot across the bow to National Weather Service website users, the private sector, app users, the media, and more. 25% of users could be left in the cold, including those seeking model guidance, and app users relying on National Weather Service websites as they run out of bandwidth. (Graphic courtesy National Weather Service)

Back in November of 2020, the National Weather Service (NWS) sent out a stunning administrative message on its primary data feed: it was running out of bandwidth, and would have to start throttling usage of all NWS and NWS-related *websites* for heavy users, or else they could all become unreliable. They set a conference call about it on December 6, and it was a wild one. The gist of it can be found here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2020/12/09/nws-data-limits-internet-bandwidth/?fbclid=IwAR0GZZWPlChwE8WOtxbNIM5xxLfQN7b8vMxSnp2llO11ITahRGUw2z5mjik

Starting in the first quarter of 2021, they would start throttling heavy users. This meant, in the words of the National Weather Service, that 25% (1/4, ie, one quarter) of its users would be left out in the cold.

This would target two groups of people: app users and developers, and those downloading a lot of model guidance (HRRR, NAM, GFS, etc). Some fit into both of those categories. And it would target the private sector, who uses a lot of that data to help others make life-saving decisions (including AllisonHouse). Needless to say, this was met with a lot of concern, and scorn.

I won’t get into the politics of it, but as an AllisonHouse subscriber, you deserve to know if your data will be missing, or delayed. The rest of this article is to transparently tell you how we won’t be affected.

1. We receive the primary National Weather Service data feed via a satellite dish in Oklahoma City. On that feed come surface and upper air data, GOES (and other) satellite imagery, level 3 radar, a considerable number of MRMS products (all of the heavily used ones), some high-resolution model data. This includes all watches/warnings/advisories from the National Weather Service. Thus, this data will be unaffected by any website issues.

2. We receive Level 2 (and derive from it super-res level 3) radar data, FAA METARs/surface data, MRMS radar, MADIS, mesonets, earthquake, fire, MPING and Spotter Network data via fiber that does not go through any of their websites. Thus, this data will be unaffected.

3. Models. That’s really the only concern. Or is it? I asked our CTO, Ryan Hickman, about it….and completely understanding the issue, he simply said “There’s nothing to be concerned about”. We have the tech, the tools, the data, great people, and the data channels to avoid any outages or delays from National Weather Service data throttling on websites. We simply bypass them.

So, current customer, you have no worries; we have you taken care of. If you are an app developer, and are worried you’ll be left with a blank radar display, or without reliable or timely watches and warnings, talk to us. We provide or make available extremely reliable radar data and warnings to popular apps like RadarScope, GRlevel3, RadarOmega, and more! And if you are concerned, Emergency Manager, or storm enthusiast, that your data will be delayed or missing when it really matters, talk to us. We don’t have server limitations or bandwidth issues! Head to our support pages and send us an email. We love to hear from current and also potential customers!

Until next time, stay 6′ apart from those outside your home, electrified fences, and those who put ketchup on hot dogs in Chicago. And have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and whatever holiday you celebrate!

This ‘n that: HRRRV4, Lake Charles radar announcement, upgrade YOUR tech, and GRAnalyst update

WSR-88D Radar
Lake Charles, LA will be getting a replacement WSR-88D radar in the spring of 2021. This and other news and notes, below.

Hello everyone,

OK: no more ice storms in Oklahoma City. That’s good. By the way, our dish is fine and the reception is excellent.

So what’s new? We debut the HRRRV4 on AllisonHouse Maps. So, the question is, how good is it? Every meteorologist who does short range forecasting just got fired.

And if you believe that…

The answer is: it’s better than V3. Here are the big improvements:

1. Improved cloud representation for boundary-top clouds, especially for shallow cold-air layers with cold-air retention

2. Better cloud bands (snow squalls, hurricane bands, lake-effect bands)

3. 3km ensemble data assimilation for improved storm prediction for 1-12h

4. Inline smoke prediction

5. Improved lake temperatures

6. Extension to 48h forecast every 6h.

Enjoy!

—————————————————————————–
In other news: the Radar Operations Center now has the replacement parts for the Lake Charles, LA NEXRAD WSR-88D. If you recall, it was mostly destroyed by hurricane Laura. According to a Radar Operations Center Facebook page post today, test data may be available as early as late January, 2021, with full commissioning in March of 2021, in time for the southern U.S. severe weather season.

A frequent question I got about it: why not upgrade to a phased-array radar? It scans the sky every 45 seconds or less, and has no moving parts! Well, the answer to that question is simple: money. It will cost over a million dollars to replace this WSR-88D. It costs over 20 million for a phased array radar. Furthermore, there are a LOT of issues to overcome before the data is of operational quality. I bet you didn’t realize that some of the data coming from them is bad right now. It’s an experimental technology. They’ll get it right, but it still is several years off. Not to mention, they cost over $20 million apiece, or roughly 10x what a WSR-88D costs. Nevertheless, it’s a great technology that is coming down the road.

——————————————————————————

At AllisonHouse, we are at the forefront of the latest software and digital technology to give you the best weather data and visualization experience at a price you can afford. When you subscribe, you help us not only pay for the cost of giving you he data, but needed upgrades (and feeding Ryan, scientists have confirmed to us that he needs to eat). But what about you? Are you still using that 6-8 year old laptop? Did you know that you can do a relatively low-cost refurbish and take that slow old hog and make it a beast again?

Consider my laptop, now 7 years old. I told AllisonHouse it needed to be upgraded, or it wouldn’t be able to do basic things soon. So instead of replacing it, we economically refurbished it. For $125, here’s what we did:

1. We doubled the amount and speed of the RAM, going from 8 GB to 16GB.

2. And this is the biggie: We replaced a 5400 RPM mechanical hard drive with a 256 mb/second Solid State Drive (aka SSD-we could have gone with faster, but none were available due to being sold out during the early part of COVID-19).

This thing works like it is new (actually a LOT faster than new), running Windows 10. You can go to places like https://www.crucial.com/ , and get parts to upgrade your laptop or desktop (that wasn’t an endorsement by AllisonHouse or myself, I’m just using that as an example). In fact, most businesses these days, to save money and make their computers even faster, are doing exactly this. Why? Because you can make your existing computer much faster than ever before for about $100 (buy in bulk, it’s less). Now, many solid-state drives go as fast as 2 GB per second these days (SSD 2.0 even faster). How did it help me? Before the upgrade, it took roughly 10 minutes to fully boot. Now, it takes 10 SECONDS. It runs cooler, because the memory is better and the solid state drive has no moving parts, so it uses less electricity and is quieter. Not to mention, the cooling fan runs at low speed all the time now.

That’s something to think about. A fast computer for Christmas would make a great gift! Oh, and that 15 year old who builds computers for gaming? Yeah…talk to him about it. He can probably do it for you. Seriously.

Finally, a new version of GRAnalyst is out, fixing a bug where Local Storm Reports (LSR’s) do not show up when looking at historical data. Download:

http://www.grlevelx.com/downloads/gr2analyst_2_update.exe

You have a great December. Onward and upward, and do your best to stay healthy, and if not, I pray you beat this stupid virus!

Data diversity and resiliency at AllisonHouse: making a great customer experience

The AllisonHouse pimary and backup satellite dishes for receiving weather data. Thanks to data resiliency, we are able to stay up, even when these dish antennas and ground system got hit by lightning last year. Since then, the antennas, coax and ground system were replaced and upgraded. Photo credit: Gilbert Sebenste/AllisonHouse

In my previous blogpost, I talked very briefly about data diversity and data resiliency. My boss wanted me to expound on that some, and how it affects you as a customer, improving your experience with us.

But first, a little background: the National Weather Service text products, satellite images from GOES-16 and GOES-17, many models, and level 3 radar products are sent via the Satellite Broadcast Network (SBN) from the National Weather Service. If you receive the feed outside of the National Weather Service, like we do, the same feed is given a different name: NOAAport (like how we call hurricanes in the eastern Pacific and Gulf/Atlantic Ocean, and typhoons in the western Pacific. It’s the exact same storm type, it just has a different name!). Anyone can pick up NOAAport with a large (think WAY bigger than a pay TV ) satellite dish, a receiver, cables, antenna (LNB for you tech geeks), support bracket and mast…and then a server in a data center to send it out to be processed. That’s expensive, but that’s one reason why we have to charge for the data. And, we have all of that equipment, top notch at that, to pick up the broadcast reliably. But why is having only one dish a bad idea?

Let me ask you a question: what would happen if lightning hit the antenna on the satellite dish, fried it along with the coaxial cable, and burned up the entire grounding system? That would make for a very bad day for us, right? Well, thanks to data diversity, you didn’t even know that it DID happen to us last year. Other dishes we have access to across the country kicked in and kept the data flowing without even a moment of data drop or loss (since then, we replaced everything but the receiver, server and dish, which were not damaged). This means that because of our data diversity, we are resilient to disastrous or catastrophic failures. We have redundancy to keep going with frequently no loss of data to the customer.

Data diversity means that if our satellite dish is affected by severe/bad weather, or a twice a year “sun outage”, the other backup dishes we have access to across the country kick in and automatically take over sending us data instantly. The end result is no downtime for us and you, the end user. In fact, when a feed goes down these days, typically the issue is outside of our control. It also means the same for our feeds coming in via fiber. We are one of a few data vendors have that have access to BOTH level 2 radar inject points from the National Weather Service. If one is down or delayed and the other is fine, you don’t notice a thing. Everything works just fine on your end. We get the data that is coming in fastest, process it, and then get it to you almost instantly.

Nearly 20 years ago, when AllisonHouse was new, outages would occur with software ingest crashes, network issues, power outages….our server was literally in Tyler Allison’s basement! In 2020, we have multiple servers all over the country in data centers that have copious amounts of backup power, with very high speed and redundant Internet connections. Blazing fast new servers, software ingest programs that are state-of-the-art and reliable, and multiple data ingest points along with excellent system administration mean very high reliability for our customers today. How high?

If you want to pay thousands of dollars every month for 24/7/365 service where an engineer is monitoring everything, we understand (and if you want that, just drop us an email!). Even so, our servers alert us 24/7/365 when one has a very rare issue, and we do stagger our work times during periods of severe weather in case something breaks. But, as a result of excellent equipment and system administration from Ryan Hickman, our CTO, we now consistently achieve 99.999% uptime on all of our services, and in some cases, that goes out 5 decimal points! And we’re constantly improving and frequently upgrading to make our equipment and our services the very best they can be.

Such redundancy and resulting reliability and resiliency should be priced around $300 a month for Level 2 data alone, according to the research we have done. But we want to bring reliable service at an affordable price to everyone! But because we like to eat and sleep in apartments and houses, we do have to charge for our data. So, having said that, we believe we have the best combination of value and service of any weather company, anywhere in the world. Give us a try…and for those who are already our customers, THANK YOU for placing your hard-earned money with us. We couldn’t do what we do without you, and we are most grateful and humbled for that.

And if you want to see our reliability in action, as an example, check out:

https://www.allisonhouse.com/pages/status/uptime

(Note: the National Weather Service had an 18 minute outage that affected EVERYBODY on November 12, and they were unable to send warnings and radar data to anyone, including WITHIN the NWS. We can’t work around that, as you might imagine).

So, if you are interested in extremely reliable data, AllisonHouse Maps, or helping you with making your weather software the best it can be, drop us a line at our support email address. We would love to help you out!