We are just weeks into a summer that has already spawned devastating storms, floods, wildfires and heat waves across the nation (“Extreme drought rapidly intensifies in swaths of U.S.”) It’s hard to imagine a less opportune time to cut funding for weather forecasting.
Yet that will happen unless Congress repeals mandatory budget cuts scheduled to hit federal programs 2013. These “sequestration” cuts include a $182 million reduction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellite programs. With this devastating cut, development of a new generation of weather satellites would be delayed, risking an increase of what is already projected to be at least a 17-month gap in polar-orbiting weather satellite coverage beginning in 2017.
National Weather Service forecast models get 85 percent of their data from polar-orbiting NOAA weather satellites. Without this data, weather predictions may wildly miss the mark. In one test last year, NOAA ran models forecasting the 2010 “Snowmaggedon” blizzard using 1960s-era sea buoys and weather balloons. Without satellite data, models misjudged the storm track by 200 to 300 miles and underestimated accumulations by 10 inches.
Without satellites, NOAA says hurricane tracking would suffer from the same degree of inaccuracy. NOAA satellites save lives and money at a time when our weather is becoming more and more volatile. Congress and the President should ensure that citizens and communities continue to receive the accurate weather forecasts they’ve come to count on.