Williams to watch weather with OU

By Kathleen Davis
Associate Editor

August 27, 2001 — Williams announced a $10 million strategic alliance with the University of Oklahoma (OU) this morning from their offices at One Williams Center in downtown Tulsa. The money will go toward weather and climate research, technology development and undergraduate and graduate meteorology education, according to company and university spokesmen.

According to David Boren, president of OU, this commercial arrangement will be “largest agreement between a private company and a university meteorology program in the history of the United States.”

“This is a partnership between business and higher education where both parties benefit,” added Keith E. Bailey, Williams chairman, president and CEO. “It provides Williams access to weather research and technology that is dramatically superior than tradition government weather services and customized to Williams’ unique needs.”

The $10 million price tag breaks down into smaller specifics: $8.1 million over five years to fund weather analysis and prediction, including a “supercomputer” that will be “the most powerful among all Big-12 institutions,” according to Williams; $1.6 million over five years to fund regional climate research; and, gifts to create a Williams Endowed Chair at OU, set up a student computer lab and fund three Williams Fellows in the Master of Science in Professional Meteorology Degree.

With the concept of “new blood” being bandied around by Williams vice president of portfolio management Mike Selman, the company is hoping that this alliance with OU will shift the traditional weather risk flow chart to a more interactive one. While companies like Williams are normally at the end of a long chain that starts with raw data from the National Weather Service being pumped through computer forecast models and ends with “decision makers” relying on analysis of the models, the new system (including that supercomputer they are touting) would allow those “decision makers” to tailor the models and the analysis to fit a specific concept beforehand, like ordering your cheeseburger at the drive-thru instead of walking in and selecting in from a long line of choices cafeteria style.

“We believe the outcome of this partnership will yield a world class suite of weather forecast and analysis products suited for use in the energy market and trading industry,” said Denise Russell, director of market analysis at William’s energy marketing and trading unit (who has hired some OU meteorology graduates already). “We will have a valuable pipeline for new technological and human resource capabilities with which to maintain these developments.”

The Williams/OU alliance was made possible through advances in technology as well as the enactment of Oklahoma state questions 680 and 681, which now allows companies to license and commercialize technology developed by universities.

“Think about the learning opportunities for our students,” Boren stated at the press conference. “It’s truly exciting; this is really a pioneering partnership.”

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