FutureDude Jeffrey Morris with meteorologist Paul Douglas on set at the WeatherNation Studios.
After this weekend’s massive storms throughout the Midwest, I’m excited to post the second half of my interview with meteorologist Paul Douglas. Having had the chance to visit his WeatherNation studios, I was blow away by the technology on hand. Beyond the tech, though, I continue to be amazed by Paul’s commitment to thoughtful, accurate, and truly helpful weather prediction.
In his office last Friday, he showed me a map that depicted the storms developing in the next two days across the Plains states. He demonstrated honest concern over the potential for catastrophic damage and loss of life. This is a man who cares deeply about what he does and how his work impacts people.
Paul Douglas: After developing and selling EarthWatch, I began focusing on personalized weather. We have had many projects of the years, including Digital Cyclone — where everyone could get a personalized forecast on the web.
Sadly, we couldn’t make any money on the web and transitioned quickly to wireless. We cultivated relationships with wireless carriers, because we saw smartphones coming and they were going to need content.
FutureDude: You really were on the cutting edge, if you anticipated smartphones that early. What did you develop at the time?
There weren’t hundreds of thousands of options in 2004 — there were five. Digital Cyclone was one of them. We were the first company to load up an app on a cell phone. We supplied black and white Doppler radar on a phone! Farmers loved it. Construction workers loved it. For me, it is all about empowering people. Now millions are walking around with “Doppler in their pocket”! Kind of funny.
So what are you up to these days?
Last summer we teamed up with partners in Denver, and we launched Weathernation TV. We are adding cable systems and affiliates. We providing all weather, all the time: national, regional, and local content geared to true weather enthusiasts.
There are a few of those out there. We’re about to launch on KARE 11.2, and we’re signing deals in major markets. There is an insatiable hunger for weather information — and since the last 2 years have been the most severe since 1816. So, I suspect our timing is pretty good.
Interesting. Do you have any additional content or products in development?
With another company of mine, Data Direct, we supply sensors for weather-sensitive businesses and very specific consumer verticals where weather is critical — everything from monitoring oxygen levels in your aquarium to humidity levels in your wine cellar.
There’s a tremendous opportunity with HVAC for offices; it’s low-hanging fruit. We network them all together for a real-time view of your office, and you can constantly balance and rebalance your energy load using software from our Smart Energy subsidiary.
You know, we could save 20 or 30 percent on our bills by just being more efficient! It’s all about saving money — having the right tools, hardware and visualization software to maximize efficiencies.
Another business, we do on-air broadcasts with meteorologists. We also do a lot of things beneath the surface. We have an alerting service. When the tornado hit Joplin we gave them a warning that was 24 minutes early. It is a sophisticated warning system that sends out e-mails, texts, even calls key company personnel to make sure they get the word in time.
Absolutely amazing! So you saved lives.
That’s the goal. Another company I’m involved with is Smart Energy. It crunches weather data and supplies hyper-resolution modeling for wind farms in the North Sea, Texas, Oregon — really any location on Earth.
The goal is to create a more reliable wind forecast, so operators know how much energy they can put onto the grid from day to day. Right now, they’re penalized if they don’t hit their targets. Again, it’s all about empowerment.
There is so much more to this than meets the eye. To most people, it’s “tell us if its going to rain”; or “what should I wear today?”; “is weather coming that’s going to kill me?” But it affects our lives on so many other levels.
When you think about the efficiency of a home heating or cooling system, it’s directly connected to the weather, right?
All the existing systems are dumb systems. You have a thermostat, and — if it’s in the sun — it’s going to read incorrectly. There is so much energy waste.
Through the use of a series of sensors in a home, we can mitigate that. What we are creating is real-time, networked weather intelligence. These systems are not only going to give you a good idea of what is happening, they will also have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen.
That’s key — develop code that anticipates the future and saves time and money. There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs to take America into a new carbon-neutral energy future.
I have hundreds of ideas. Sadly, that’s a symptom of ADHD. I have to learn to focus. And execute. Less is more, right?
So you are talking about a paradigm shift in how we manage everyday energy and resources.
Exactly. For example, irrigation. With climate change occurring, in this century, the most precious resource in the 21 century is going to be water — not oil. People are always baffled when I bring that up, but that’s what I believe. In our lifetime, a large western city is going to run out of water. My bet is Las Vegas or Phoenix. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s my gut — based on current trends.
The more we can conserve water, the better. So, if there is a storm coming in within 36 hours, then why on Earth would you waste all of that water today — when there is a 93% chance and growing that you are going to have rain? That’s what we are talking about with weather intelligence.
So, what would you say is the future of weather broadcasting?
Looking ahead to the future, I don’t know if television stations will be able to cross the chasm and get to the other side of new media. I don’t think they are reinventing themselves fast enough.
I think you’re probably right.
They will have to change their mindset from being a TV station to becoming a device-agnostic content center. It would allow me to get a clip of news from my zip code, on my schedule, on my device, when I feel like it. It leaves opportunities for entrepreneurs to imagine the future and look at how people are using mobile devices.
With weather, it is all about personalization and relevance. The notion of sitting in front of a TV station and hoping that a relevant nugget of information will wash over you in a 4-minute weather cast… My kids laugh at me when I sit there and watch the 10 PM news. They ask why I’m doing that.
Now, we’ve become a nation of armchair meteorologists. We see more severe weather than any nation on Earth, so we have good reason to be. But there is so much information available on the web and on mobile devices.
But, I think there will always be a place for television meteorology. Especially on the big storm days, you want an expert interpreting that dual-polarization Doppler and telling you what it means.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point where there is no need for a human in the equation. I certainly hope not. Especially on the big storm days –- when all heck is breaking loose. I suspect people will want meteorologists to interpret the maps –- find the signal amidst the noise and explain what it really means. That’s more of a prayer than a prediction, by the way.
We have hundreds of weather models, but understanding which model to believe and why still requires a human being. There will always be a role for meteorologists, but I tell my TV weather friends to be flexible. You never know what the future holds.
So, do you have any final thoughts? Where is the world’s weather headed?
I’m excited for the future. There is no doubt in my mind that the weather is becoming more severe. The last two years have been the most severe since 1816.
I think it’s going to impact everything — from how we design our homes and our cars, our infrastructure, irrigation systems, how we farm, our recreation. A certain amount of adaptation to climate change is already in the pipeline.
We are going to have to acclimate ourselves to a warmer, wetter, stormier, more severe climate. And there will be opportunities! A, it’s happening. B, it’s a threat and it’s the mother of all opportunities.
Instead of wringing our hands and gloom and doom, let’s come up with solutions for how to reduce carbon.
There seems to be so many opportunities out there to get things headed in a new direction. If we could only get people to think a little differently.
We can generate electricity without polluting the atmosphere. We do have that technology. But, there is so much money involved and so much disinformation out there. It’s no wonder the average American is confused.
The problem is inertia in Washington DC and so much money from legacy energy companies whose business models are threatened by this new clean, green energy paradigm. They’re polluting free enterprise with millions of dollars –- trying to keep confusion alive about climate change. It’s in their best interest to prevent Congress from legislating a carbon tax. But I think it’s inevitable.
I hope it doesn’t take a few more Katrina-like climate disasters for people to wake up and demand action. I believe that most Americans still respond to logic, reason, and facts on the ground. We’ll figure this out, but the solution isn’t just drilling and mining.
There’s no silver bullet, but there is plenty of green buckshot. Government needs to set the bar high, then get the heck out of the way. Let the markets work.
I think people are going to get a wakeup call. This year’s jaw-dropping warmth and weird weather is just one more symptom. I’m a naive optimist, and I believe we can and will figure this out. Frankly, we won’t have a choice.
Well, Paul. I have to thank you. I have truly enjoyed our conversation, and I look forward to exploring these ideas further.
Thanks for your passion, Jeff, and getting people to envision the future they want.
Some of it is out of our hands, but the older I get the more I believe most of us want the same thing -– a safe, prosperous future for our kids and grandkids. A continuation of our way of life.
We won’t get there by doing the same old stuff; we’ll have to reinvent how we generate electricity. We can grow our economy without treating the environment like a battered ATM card. There’s a smart way to grow. I’m looking forward to America 2.0.
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