Donald Berchoff, founder and CEO of TruWeather Solutions LLC. (Photos by Paul Miller)
ALBANY, N.Y. (March 23, 2017) — In 2001, Donald Berchoff, then commander of the 15th Operational Weather Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, told leading officials in the base’s Tanker Airlift Control Center that they were wasting big taxpayer money on weather delays.
“My embedded team of 15 personnel discovered that the Air Force was making planning-and-launch decisions without full consideration of how the weather could delay or impact the mission — they were experiencing 5,000 weather delays a year,” said Berchoff.
He counseled that if the Control Center changed mission plans based on when weather events were fairly certain to occur, delays would be cut 40-60 percent. Leadership listened, changes were implemented and the result topped Berchoff’s high-end estimate: yearly delays fell to 1,800, saving nearly $200 million.
Berchoff, as founder and CEO of TruWeather Solutions LLC out of Reston, Virginia, is now extending his 33 years of weather-tracking expertise to New York State and UAlbany, because TruWeather is one of the newest START-UP NY business partnerships with SUNY colleges and universities, through Empire State Development (ESD).
Upon retiring as an Air Force colonel in 2008 after 24 years in the service, Berchoff began applying his expertise in management and weather systems to first the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and then the private sector. He brought to businesses the same kinds of questions he asked the military: Do you know what weather really costs you? Do you think these costs are part of life or the price of doing business?
And: Do you believe what you get for free is the best the meteorological community can offer?
Unleashing the Latent Power of Science
He said it was the frustration at seeing great ready-for-operations science and technology delayed in reaching the public and weather-sensitive industries and businesses that led him to founded TruWeather in 2015. The fiscal stakes are much higher than in 2001: He estimates that weather costs businesses $534 billion a year in lost profits, with 40 percent of it recoverable.
“After retiring from the military, it was my focus to unleash the latent power of mature and proven science and technology developed in academia, science labs or small emerging businesses,” he said. These resources, said Berchoff, often lack a quick path into government or private sector weather solutions.
“Business margins are getting tighter and it is becoming more challenging to remain price competitive. Adaptation and agility is the key to thriving and growing in an increasingly complex, interconnected world.” Berchoff said that free, publically available weather products, while important, are not “fit for purpose” for decisions around specific applications or required scales. “They add an element of uncertainty to what could be a very important or costly decision.”
Don Berchoff chats with TruWeather's across-the-hall neighbor, Jerry Brotzge, program manager for NYS Mesonet.
“TruWeather Solutions understands the science and technology required to produce highly accurate, reliable, secure and relevant products,” said Berchoff. “We’ll work with the ASRC to identify gaps in the science, observations and modeling that inhibit the weather enterprise in making better, more for-purpose forecasts for each industry vertical.
“We also hope to collaborate on science research that is relevant to improving societal outcomes and solving the important science problems that the weather services enterprise needs solved to improve weather knowledge. And we can test their science development in an operational environment to provide feedback on success, and identify areas they may need to conduct more study.”
He sees TruWeather aiding the work of DAES faculty and students in applying the science to real world problems and situations. “TruWeather also understands the weather industry and can mentor students in career options, hire interns to gain experience, and provide guest lectures to students,” he said. “We will likely also look to hire top graduates if they desire working with us.”
His company can also support Mesonet in providing reliable service to forecasters who come to depend on the network’s data to make life and death decisions, confident that when problems occur, they will be addressed and solved quickly. “TruWeather Solutions can assist the Mesonet Operations Center in building a mission-critical culture to meet these demands.”
That assistance right now is physically just about 20 feet away, since TruWeather’s office is located just across the Lecture Center sub-basement hallway from the Mesonet Operations Center.
“The University is excited to locate our first business under START-UP NY that aligns with our renowned programs in atmospheric and environmental science and our first business to locate officially within the campus community," said Matt Grattan, director of Community & Economic Development in the Division for Research.
"TruWeather Solutions' expertise and knowledge in the application and design of weather related solutions for a wide range of business verticals will not only create and grow jobs in Albany, but will assist our Center for Excellence in Environmental Prediction and Innovation in continuing to partner with other emerging weather related companies.”
TruWeather Solutions has projected seven new jobs and a $260,000 invest emanating from its initial operations. Berchoff, a New York State native and SUNY graduate, is confident that will be just the start of a burgeoning and prosperous relationship for the state and UAlbany.