Brian McNicoll
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“Paging the Onion … Do we really need a national weather service? (From FOX News, of course).”

This is a tweet from Eric Boehlert, who works for the George Soros-funded Media Matters for America website.

There’s a hurricane bearing down on us, he was saying last Saturday, and the idiots on the FOX News are running stories asking whether we need the National Weather Service. So silly it deserves its own story in the Onion.

Well, do we need a National Weather Service?

The most popular site on the web for weather is weather.com, run by the Weather Channel. The National Weather Service, a $1 billion-per-year federal agency, is right next door at weather.gov. From Tuesday through Sunday – the high-water period for Irene watching – did you ever once go to weather.gov for storm information?

Few Americans did. In fact, weather.com had more than 3,000 times as many unique visitors as weather.gov. And anyone who didn’t get their information from one of those sites probably got it on television, where, again, the NWS played little or no role.

So what did NWS bring to the table? The National Hurricane Center? The NHS did fly atop the storm and broadcast some interesting images. But, really, those in the path of the storm need time frames and info on the path of the storm – and those images provided neither.

NWS did issue its various warnings and watches and advisories. But the warnings carry no force – it’s up to local governments to order evacuations, open shelters or impose curfews. And the advisories, warnings and watches basically tell us the storm is getting close, now closer, now so close it should be raining outside your door. In other words, information widely available elsewhere for free.

Are perhaps the NWS’ forecasts more accurate? Because if they are – for hurricanes or blizzards or thunderstorms or tornados – that information could save lives, not to mention billions of dollars. But the leading authority in America on when and where storms will hit is Accu-Weather, a private concern.

It was Accu-Weather, not NWS, that first predicted Katrina would score a direct hit on New Orleans. It was Accu-Weather, not NWS, that led with predictions Irene would not prove the devastating monster others were proclaiming. It is Accu-Weather that answers the bell when local governments need localized forecasts on snowfall, rainfall and the like. NWS doesn’t even offer these services.

Most of us don’t need zip code-by-zip code weather information. We need to know roughly when the storm will arrive, when will it end, how hard will the winds blow and how much rain/snow/ice will fall. And we can get that info anywhere for free.

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Brian McNicoll

Brian McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.