Communicating clear, concise, and accurate information is one element of scientific information exchange that can have tremendous impact. We have seen examples of these communication qualities over the past month and even this week as the National Hurricane Center and NOAA track the hurricanes heading toward the southern states of the U.S. and nearby islands. We owe the agencies that support the systems necessary to forecast and predict these events a debt of gratitude; the devastation could be significantly worse without the knowledge about impending storm activity and advance warning that these scientists provide. Some criticize the agencies' minor inaccuracies, but on the whole, those fall within the margins of error that result from trying to understand tremendously complex systems. We should look beyond occasional inaccuracies and praise the processes, systems, and scientists that produce even the simplest weather forecast map.
The technology involved in weather forecasting is astounding and the data gathering, interoperability, computational needs, and preservation aspects involved are some of the most intense data processing challenges in science. Data is gathered from satellites, buoys, and surface observation stations. Related computer models have developed over decades, with input from curated observational data. The mix of observational-data gathering, data science, computational power, and data management that results in a reliable forecast is one of the true wonders of science.
While I often joke that the work that we perform in the information sciences isn't saving lives, in some ways it is. Our work allows scientists to gather the data and resources necessary to calculate the storms' paths, study the potential effects on health after floods to avoid disease outbreaks, and learn from previous events to improve response. Especially as these storms seem to grow in intensity, the officials and first responders on the ground confronting them--as well everyone else impacted--will need all the information and support they can get. Information science supports the chain of data gathering that goes into preparing for a hurricane and the work that ensures plans are well executed. Most libraries also provide a community gathering point after a disaster. There are fewer and fewer communal spaces, and public libraries, in particular, provide an essential, free communal space in times of need.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those facing the devastation that these storms bring to our friends and family, our NISO colleagues, and fellow countrymen and women. Be safe, everyone.