AccuWeather expanding to meet demand

05/25/2014 12:00 AM

08/06/2014 12:13 PM

On Thursday, meteorologists at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions were forecasting and tracking a number of severe weather outbreaks.

Flash floods in California. Large hail in Philadelphia. Tornado warnings in Denver; Albany, N.Y.; Dover, Del.; and Richmond, Va.

That’s the core of what AccuWeather Enterprise, situated on the seventh floor of the nine-story Bank of America Center at Broadway and Douglas, does.

Its meteorologists work around the clock, seven days a week, forecasting and tracking weather – especially the severe stuff – for hundreds of corporate clients across the country in industries such as manufacturing, transportation and utilities.

By all accounts its business, which includes its SkyGuard severe weather warning service, has been well received.

In fewer than five years, the Wichita unit of State College, Pa.-based AccuWeather Inc. has seen an uptick in business and employment. In that period, its staff has increased from 27 employees to 40.

“We’ve done extraordinarily well, even in this weak economy the last five years,” said Mike Smith, senior vice president and chief innovation executive for AccuWeather Enterprise. “And I believe that’s due to the very high value we provide our clients.”

To keep that growth going, AccuWeather Enterprise is expanding into a new area of business as well as developing new products specific to its core business.

AccuWeather came to the city in 2006 when it purchased WeatherData Inc., from Smith, who launched the business 33 years ago. He also was an on-air meteorologist at KSNW from 1975 to 1993.

Smith said that in the past week two meteorologists have started at AccuWeather Enterprise, and another two are expected to start working there in the next week. “They are new positions … they are not filling existing positions,” Smith said. “We’ve had such a nice rush in our conventional warning business.”

He declined to say how many new clients the company has added for its warning business, which the company calls SkyGuard, and said the total number of business customers is “well over 200.”

AccuWeather Enterprise isn’t the only professional meteorological services firm seeing increased demand.

“I think that’s a true picture of the marketplace,” said Sara Croke, owner of Weather or Not in Shawnee, a 28-year-old meteorological consulting services firm.

“The other things we’re seeing are more corporations are wanting to talk to us about being part of their emergency preparedness plans, being a part of their decision-making regarding big blizzards” and other storm-related weather events.

AccuWeather Wichita also has added staff for a new business unit Smith calls the weather-driven marketing unit. Four people have been hired for that business, which he said offers consulting services to retailers, consumer-products manufacturers and others on “when you should advertise snow shovels and rain coats.”

“Businesses will give us their sales information and we’ll take their historical sales information and correlate it to weather conditions at that time,” Smith said.

AccuWeather Enterprise also is recruiting for a vice president of sales, who will be responsible for signing new clients.

Smith said the company is working with new computer models that could advance its prediction capabilities for certain types of severe weather.

He said the company is starting to work with new computer models specific to tornadoes, lightning and ice storms that are not fully developed yet to be offered as products to its clients, but are showing promise.

“During the Arkansas tornado two weeks ago … it was telling us the day before almost the tracks the tornadoes were going to take,” he said. That same product could also include the capability for AccuWeather Wichita’s meteorologists to determine how much lightning will occur from a particular storm.

The other product under development would help its forecasters determine how much ice would accumulate with a given ice storm, down to a narrow section of geography.

“When we had the ice storm in the Southeast (in February) we were forecasting ice accumulation at a sub-county level … and they (forecasts) were amazingly accurate.”

A higher profile?

It’s possible that AccuWeather Enterprise’s public profile could rise through some regular exposure on TV.

In January, AccuWeather announced plans to launch a 24-7 television channel that would compete directly with the Weather Channel.

AccuWeather said it plans to broadcast the channel through its website, media partner affiliate mobile and Internet sites, and cable and satellite carriers.

Because AccuWeather Enterprise has specific expertise in severe weather, there will be some exposure, Smith said.

“We have been told that we will be broadcasting from Wichita on the AccuWeather Channel, but we’re still not far enough along to know what that looks like yet,” he said.

A statement from its privately held parent acknowledged the Wichita unit’s expertise, but didn’t specify the level of exposure Wichita would get.

“AccuWeather Enterprise Services severe weather center in Wichita is an important part of our forecasting for businesses and viewers, and no doubt those meteorologists will play an integral role in our deep coverage of severe weather events,” the statement, e-mailed to The Eagle, said. “There are many points throughout the U.S. and the world we use for data collection and forecasting and Wichita plays a vital role particularly with severe weather events. Though we have not yet disclosed where video all of our various broadcasts will be created and transmitted … certainly existing AccuWeather locations will be a major part of the equation.”

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