Loss of Free Data Services

Access to free web mapping services has many of us hooked – but what does the future have in store? Here is a recent experience with free going to fee. It leaves me wondering where the industry is heading over the long haul regarding web mapping services, and at what cost. Shortly after September 11th I assisted the (former) Indiana State Emergency Management Agency to set up GIS in their Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC also coordinates mapping efforts with the Indiana National Guard. The programs were set up on limited staff and budgets. For storms, floods, tornadoes and the like, weather data is essential but wasn’t being provided in the needed format (a web map service – WMS) from the National Weather Service.

Luckily we found Accuweather.com and pulled the data from their WMS. Over the course of a couple years, I have pointed many professional GIS’ers to this source of free data. I recently learned from my friends at the National Guard that AccuWeather has stopped providing their service for free and now is subscription-based. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate that this is an industry and businesses are here to make money. I certainly don’t fault AccuWeather for going to a subscription service. However, it leaves us at a loss for an important data source.

With the obvious homeland security implications, and the infrastructure in place, I am left wondering why the National Weather Service isn’t making a free weather WMS a priority. It also leaves me wondering what is in store for us all as we become increasingly reliant on web map services provided by others. WMS is a powerful way for us to leverage geospatial technologies. I’m one among many who are enthusiastic about their potential. However, we need to approach the future with our open eyes. What is the long-term availability, reliability, and cost of this technology? Will we all get hooked and the then the rules change? What will that mean to our projects, and our budgets? I’d love to hear your thoughts (and if you know of another free weather WMS, please pass it on!)

****The following is a message from AccuWeather, Inc: In order to access gis.accuweather.com, you’ll need to be a Professional subscriber. You can find more information at http://pro.accuweather.com/ Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you, AccuWeather Solution Center