The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is utilizing AI and big data to predict weather disasters and alert the public in real-time, according to NOAA’s Chief Information Officer Zachary Goldstein.

At a Feb. 15 FCW event, Goldstein explained that one of the big challenges NOAA faces is the “rapid intensification” of a hurricane in the last few hours before it makes landfall. AI can help NOAA predict this rapid intensification and aid in public safety efforts, he said.

“The forecasts that you see don’t come from AI and they do come from big data, because you need the initial conditions to feed these models,” Goldstein said. “The forecasts that you see are driven by determinist… equations. What we’re using AI generally for is to see how to modify those equations. One big application is rapid intensification of hurricanes.”

Goldstein said NOAA has 264 ongoing AI projects heading for production, which means the agency has already “identified the value, there’s going to be changed algorithms, and they’re going to be coming to a forecast model near you.”

He noted this does not include all of the AI that NOAA is doing for exploration efforts, “to see what questions we should be asking but aren’t asking.”

As for big data, Goldstein said NOAA archives that data, makes it available through NOAA’s Big Data Program, and uses it to alert citizens of weather disasters.

One of “the coolest” mechanisms NOAA uses to share this big data, according to Goldstein, is through emergency messages sent directly to cell phones to warn of weather emergencies, such as tornadoes or hurricanes.

“If you’ve got a modern cell phone and you’re in the warning zone of a tornado or hurricane, it takes about 30 seconds from the moment the meteorologist in charge or local weather forecast office hears the warning come out of his computer,” to when cellphones in the danger zone are “lighting up,” Goldstein said.

“Within 30 seconds, phones in that box are lighting up, saying take shelter because your life’s in danger,” Goldstein added. “It’s one of the cooler and more important, life-saving technologies that we use.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.