During a summer in which the ongoing drought has proved so devastating to South Dakota farmers and ranchers, the importance of long-term weather forecasts warning us in advance of dangerous drought conditions is painfully clear. Given this recent history, and the need for accurate forecasts of severe summer storms and winter blizzards, this isn’t the time to cut funding for national weather forecasting satellite assets.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what will happen unless Congress works with the White House to repeal mandatory budget cuts scheduled to hit federal programs in 2013. These “sequestration” cuts may lead to a $182 million reduction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite program — putting at risk the very sentinels that provide life-saving severe weather warnings, and help with long-term forecasting.
With this cut, development of a new generation of polar-orbiting weather satellites will be delayed, risking an increase in what is already projected to be at least a 17-month gap in critical polar-orbiting weather satellite coverage beginning in 2017. Yet National Weather Service forecasts get 85 percent of their data from polar-orbiting NOAA weather satellites. If forecasters don’t have this data, weather predictions might wildly miss the mark.
Last year NOAA ran models to see how accurate the forecast of the 2010 “snowmaggedon” East Coast blizzards would be without polar-orbiting satellite data. Their models misjudged the storm track by 200 to 300 miles and underestimated snowfall accumulations by at least 10 inches. Imagine what this kind of error could mean for people throughout the Mount Rushmore State?
Referring to two major weather satellite systems in development — the Joint Polar Satellite System and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series (GOES R) — former astronaut and NOAA Deputy Administrator Kathryn Sullivan recently warned Congress, saying “These programs require stable and sufficient budgets in order to minimize disruptions that may lead to launch delays and cost increases.”