How weather data became open data

Posted to Data Sources  |  Nathan Yau

Weather in the private sector is over a $1.5 billion industry, and it's largely because of the government's open weather data. You can find what the weather is just about anywhere with just a few clicks of the mouse. It wasn't always like that though. Clay Johnson, former director of Sunlight Labs, describes the history of open weather data, starting with Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s.

Thomas Jefferson was a huge weather fan— he took regular weather observations, and even noted it was 76 degrees while penning the Declaration of Independence. He even began to build a regional volunteer weather network in Virginia though it was short-lived due to the revolutionary war.

Another volunteer network picked up a few decades later, but it wasn't until a couple of professors from Ohio convinced Congress that weather was the cause of millions of dollars of property damage and thousands of casualties that things started to get serious.

Finally, a couple of decades later, in 1889, president Benjamin Harrison makes a request to Congress.

A couple decades of military measurement went by before president Benjamin Harrison’s first annual address where he requested that Congress move the weather service into a civilian led Department of Agriculture. Big industries began demanding the data. Transportation and railroad companies — alongside riverboat operators demanded access to the data of the weather Bureau. A few years later, anything that could be affected by weather was demanding access to and was dependent upon weather data from the National Weather Service.

Vóila. A $1.5 billion industry is born. It took next to forever, but hey, it finally happened.

[via @sgillies]

4 Comments

Favorites

Most popular porn searches, by state

We’ve seen that we can learn from what people search for, through the eyes of Google suggestions: state stereotypes, national …

Top Brewery Road Trip, Routed Algorithmically

There are a lot of great craft breweries in the United States, but there is only so much time. This is the computed best way to get to the top rated breweries and how to maximize the beer tasting experience. Every journey begins with a single sip.

Think Like a Statistician – Without the Math

I call myself a statistician, because, well, I’m a statistics graduate student. However, the most important things I’ve learned are less formal, but have proven extremely useful when working/playing with data.

The Best Data Visualization Projects of 2014

It’s always tough to pick my favorite visualization projects. Nevertheless, I gave it a go.