Freeze Warning: South African Law Makes Unauthorized Weather Forecasts Illegal

Submitted by Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

American novelist Ilka Chase once wrote that, “Among famous traitors of history one might mention the weather.” Now it seems unauthorized  predictions about the weather are getting the traitor treatment, too. A proposed South African law would make any weather forecast about severe weather or air pollution not authorized by the government-funded South African Weather Service (SAWS) subject to five years in prison and a $630,000.00 fine. The law would affect TV weather forecasters, online services like, and community based weather services. Talk about a government sponsored monopoly.

And a monopoly with a purpose. Only SAWS generated text message warnings and radar images are approved, and, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, these are available to the public only after paying a subscription fee. Given South Africa’s arid climate and its summer’s fast-moving thunderstorms, this information is vital to the farm and the business communities.  The information now comes with a government set price tag. I’d call it a weather tax.

Any organization wishing to publish weather warnings will need to get written permission from SAWS to do so. One of the community-based weather organizations that would be affected by the bill is the  South Africa Weather and Disaster Observation Service (SAWDOS). It’s founder, Johan Terblanche pointed out that, “Experience has taught us that to get permission from any institution takes time — that is if you can get hold of the designated person.” So South Africans in the path of  severe weather will either have to buy the SAWS subscription service or hope their community-based service gets to the right person in time for the warning.

Another lesson in the “We’re from the government and here to help you” playbook.

Source:  Mother Nature Network

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

39 thoughts on “Freeze Warning: South African Law Makes Unauthorized Weather Forecasts Illegal”

  1. Maps come from the NRO, not the CIA. The CIA gathers and interprets data on foreign peoples and actions through direct action and data from such organizations as the NRO and NSA. The CIA are forbidden by law from operating on American soil. This does not stop them from using said private security contractors to circumvent this provision.

    Government has accountability to the people in a democracy. The way to ensure more accountability in government is to strengthen democracy while making sure that bad actions by both pols and bureaucrats under the color of authority is punishable with stiff penalties and to create greater transparency of governmental operations for the public. Private corporations have no accountability and little duty to disclose the nature of their operations unless caught directly committing a crime. Their only responsibility is to uphold shareholder profits and, unlike government actors, have no duty to the Constitution or the rights protected therein.

  2. Strawman. Of course there are satellites built and paid for by industry. They serve the purposes of that industry and not the general public. And how do they get into orbit? Magic? Lessee, worldwide tracking stations, multibillion dollar launch vehicles, Cape Canaveral infrastructure, launch research that went before in order to make the launches possible, going back to Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht research at Raketenflugplatz, Peenemünde and other such government operations……and so on. AT&T or other telecoms did not launch their communications satellites in an economic and scientific vacuum. One more thing–there are a lot of government owned satellites and support facilities that are black ops. Want those to be under control of corporations like Enron or BP?

  3. Otteray scribe

    Your chain of reasoning is belied both by history and by current situations.

    NASA did a fair job “managing”, although even thare, for better and sometimes worse, with consultant “help”. Take the Challenger scandal, wherein the only honest person in the Commission, with a glass of ice water and a gasket piece, showed NASA’s error to the whole commission, and thus demonstrated that big organizations make big mistakes. His name: Richard Feynman. Nobel Prize winner. His written exception, was ignored and hidden in the appendix.

    As for current situations, I would say that the internet and the industries dependent on it, and developing its uses are examples of large projects and small (mostly) companies.

    As for purity of motives, I hope no one is naive about what a bureaucracy has for main motives. Expansion, proliferation of management layers, risk avoidance, proliferation of programs, personnel expansion, budget increase, lock-in of markets, and monopoly building.

    Just give a few minutes thought to if we had private organizations spying for us. There are some of course. But if we eliminated CIA. Then there would be no one to deliver faulty maps of Grenada to our troops on the ground.

    The examples are many. Hope tthis gives rise to reflection.

  4. To correct the concluding sentence on my last post: “Government should not seek to create a monopoly on environmental information and messaging in Japan, South Africa, or anywhere else.”


    More sources are better, that’s agreed. After Fukushima, crowd sourcing was used to network privately collected radiation data and disseminate it.

    And there are plenty of satellites built and launched by private industry.

  5. puzling, there are no real-time unfiltered data coming from anywhere. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone. I trust private industry less than government for the simple reason government has no profit motive in the same sense private companies do. Do you think you would get better data from the company who built a reactor than the EPA? If you do, you are living in a dreamworld.

    The best source of data are lots of sources. My original point was that no company, or consortium of companies, has the capability for building a Cape Canaveral, Area 51 and the wherewithal to build Saturn 5 launch platforms on speculation that it ‘might’ work. Not to mention billion dollar satellites that might just go “splash” in the ocean if the launch rocket malfunctions. Investors would string up the R&D department staff by their thumbs if they tried what government is able to do routinely

  6. One need only see how the Japanese government handled disclosures of radiation data to see how well faith in government works in a real emergency.

    Government should seek to create a monopoly on environmental information and messaging in Japan, South Africa, or anywhere else.

  7. Well if you want to stop the propaganda about Air Pollution you need to stem it where it can be widely circulated…..Hmmmm…..Seems like I have heard some folks want to get rid of a few Federal Agency’s here in Texas….

  8. Moving the goal posts are we? As for data, I still would rather have government operated NOAA than any private company controlling the output of data.

    We all know how reliable Pfizer, Monsanto, Enron and Merck–among others–have been. Then there is the coal industry, big tobacco and BP with their flawless self-disclosures. Not!

  9. puzzling and others who would disband NOAA in favor of privatizing weather forecasting:

    Just where do you think Accuweather and the Weather Channel get their basic data? It does not come from one of their staff going out and looking at the sky. Only the government has the resources, technical expertise and money to put up multiple satellites, coordinate the data and provide information feeds to the private services. Private services are rather like CNN, MSNBC and Fox. They are aggregators, not generators, of data. Additionally, governments are able to have treaties to share weather observation data, and were doing that even during the darkest days of the cold war.

    I have three weather sources bookmarked on my computer. NOAA’s nearest weather observation station, Accuweather and the Weather Channel. Each one gives slightly different information. Locally, the most accurate current observations and forecasts come from NOAA. seems to be slightly more accurate for local observations than Accuweather, at least most of the time. All are useful in different ways, but when it comes to knowing exactly when to bring in the brass monkeys, NOAA wins every time.

  10. You dont need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

    This is a test. Who said it?

  11. Quite possibly another example of greed and the lust for power. So, good posting, HOWEVER. … .

    “Another lesson in the “We’re from the government and here to help you” playbook.” I believe these cute axioms ought to be left for the GOP. Government help may be at times inefficient and ineffective but in many instances it is the only game in town. It is first responders and underpaid case workers and ohter grunts who are there to help. The problems lie with those who don’t get their hands dirty while trying to take credit or assigning blame.

  12. I wonder if that applies to “climate” as well?

    I once went down to Texas, and while there inquired about the climate. I asked an old rugged looking local “what kind of climate do you have here sir?” He spit some tobacco juice on the ground, and said “boy, I don’t reckon we got any kind of climate here, alls we got is weather.”

  13. We’ve got just the opposite problem here:

    Rick Santorum’s campaign could be clouded by 7-year-old attack on National Weather Service

    While a seemingly obscure issue next to abortion, gay marriage and tax cuts, weather forecasting inspired a defining controversy for the tail end of Santorum’s U.S. Senate career: his sponsorship of a 2005 bill aimed at hobbling the federal agency’s ability to compete with commercial forecasters like AccuWeather.

    The bill went nowhere but brought Santorum a nationwide pasting from bloggers, weather enthusiasts, airline pilots and other critics. Some of them noted that executives from AccuWeather — a company based in State College, Pa., in Santorum’s home state — had donated thousands of dollars to his campaigns over the years.

  14. Dear puzzling: just becaused the government does it does not make it bad. Criminalizing weather reports is ridiculous but disbanding NOAA and the National Weather service is insane. Corporate control of weather reporting would not make it less sensational–watch any local TV station with its own weather radar.
    Corporations control the Congress, the prisons, the news and recently tried to shut down the Internet. I don’t want them controlling weather reporting. Once they do you can be sure Congress will be convinced that non corporate weather reporting should be criminalized but that is where I came in.

  15. While this policy in South Africa is absurd, so is the dominance of NOAA reporting for severe weather here in the United States.

    On the Hurricane Irene thread, I wrote:

    NOAA and the National Weather Service should be disbanded to allow higher quality, competing private forecasting services to emerge.

    As things stand today hurricane forecasts by the federal government monopolize the messaging provided by the news media. Errors, oversights and exaggerations by government forecasters are amplified and repeated over and over. Overstated warnings reinforce the importance of government oversight and control. Only corporate clients with aviation and transportation dependencies are able to obtain independent information of any quality.

    Weather threats are routinely exaggerated and reinforce dependence on government and so-called emergency officials, while the public must live with frequent mistakes with no prospect for accountability or improvement by the government that provides them.

  16. Whether the weather is cold,
    or whether the weather is hot.

    We’ll weather the weather,
    Whatever the weather.

    Whether we like it or not…

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