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NOAA says GOP’s proposed satellite funding cuts could halve accuracy of precipitation forecasts

By Climate Guest Contributor on March 24, 2011 at 7:22 pm

"NOAA says GOP’s proposed satellite funding cuts could halve accuracy of precipitation forecasts"

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SP NOAA

Michael Conathan, CAPAF’s Director of Ocean Programs, in a Science Progress cross-post.

The National Ocean and Atmospheric Association released new data yesterday showing precisely how the loss of environmental monitoring satellites would affect our ability to forecast extreme weather events.  NOAA used the example of the “Snowmageddon” storm that dumped massive precipitation from the Gulf of Mexico to New England on February 5-6, 2010.

We here at CAPAF and Climate Progress have been keeping close tabs on House Republicans’ efforts to make the country more vulnerable to extreme weather events. If Congress refuses to fund new environmental monitoring satellites to replace aging spacecraft that could fail at any time, it will undoubtedly expose Americans to increased risk from storms, floods, blizzards, and hurricanes. Meanwhile, more and more science is emerging that strengthens the link between unprecedented weather phenomena and human-caused global climate change.

The GOP-controlled Congress took steps to eliminate $700 million in funding for NOAA’s satellite program in its bill to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year (until October 2011). Though that bill is still being negotiated, the three-week continuing resolution that keeps the government open until April 8 also contained cuts to NOAA’s vital satellites.

As I have written, making these short-sighted cuts now will force taxpayers to spend three to five times as much to buy exactly the same equipment 18-months down the road””a delay extremely likely to leave the nation without coverage since our current satellites are approaching the end of their projected service lives. Failing to replace these vital sources of data is simply not an option. This is because these satellites are critical to our ability to predict and prepare for high-impact weather phenomena.

How critical? The graphics below show a “with” and “without” comparison of how forecasts for the “Snowmageddon” storm of 2010 would have been impacted by the loss of NOAA’s satellites. The first set of maps shows actual rainfall experienced in the central Gulf Coast; NOAA’s rainfall predictions; and the predictions that would have been filed without satellite data. The second set shows the same progression for the snowfall forecast in the mid-Atlantic region.

(click to enlarge)

Without the satellite data, NOAA’s forecasts lose as much as 50 percent of their accuracy, underforecasting snowfall in Washington, D.C. by almost a foot, and rainfall in the Gulf by up to an inch. The resulting failure to prepare for flash floods, roadside strandings, air traffic delays, and transit interruptions could halt all commerce. Even worse, failing to maintain our satellite network, according to NOAA, would reduce future flood preparedness time from days to mere hours, putting human lives at risk.

Does it snow where you live? Does it rain? The GOP wants you to wait a year and a half and then pay five times as much to eventually get a reasonable estimate of how much wet stuff is going to fall from yonder cloud. Apparently their intention is to boost the economy through sales of bottled water, batteries, and toilet paper so everyone is prepared when the next big storm hits. Absent a substantial investment to maintain our environmental satellite network, it could happen any time””without warning””so you better start shopping.

Michael Conathan

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20 Responses to NOAA says GOP’s proposed satellite funding cuts could halve accuracy of precipitation forecasts

  1. Leif says:

    Wind speed and wave hight have been increasing over the last 30 years. Implications have a big effect of energy and CO2 transfer between ocean and atmosphere.

    http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/03/25/3172755.htm

  2. David Fox says:

    Ignorance is bliss. I wish I could take back everything I know.

  3. Eli Rabett says:

    The problem, of course, is that the new generation of weather satellites is years late and zillions over budget. Mission creep with a vengence

  4. Joan Savage says:

    I benefit greatly from the improved snow forecasts, and am distressed at the thought of how chaotic life would be without them. To date in central New York we have had about 4.5 meters of snow in this 2010-2011 season. It has been a matter of health and safety to be able to plan the bouts of shoveling and times of travel. We are avid watchers of weather forecasts.

    The NOAA illustrations, with and without satellite information, are quite clear for the implications to population. It would be very interesting to see the same comparison for estimating rainfall on cropland in Midwest and Great Plains.

  5. Greg says:

    The darker side of me believes that, while the entire US will suffer, the more Republican-leaning Southeast and Plains will suffer more. Something about chickens coming home to roost. I just wish that their stupidity didn’t have to be inflicted on more intelligent regions.

  6. Roger says:

    OK, today’s posts get my goat. I’m coming out of comment retirement.

    This attempt to cut NOAA satellite funding sadly proves that many of our elected officials have become slaves of fossil fuel money, and enemies of the people they have pledged to protect, the so-called “useless eaters.”

    Proof: What’s the first step we use to neutralize our enemies? We try to blind them: take out their radar, their communication systems–the things that provide information allowing them to make sound decisions.

    How long will we stand for this? Are we mice or men; wimps or women?

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Roger #5, where’s my cheese? Actually we find peanut butter lures the poor buggers to their doom quite effectively. All murine tendencies to one side, one of the Right’s tactics is to be so extreme, so unbending, so flagrantly wrong but proud of it, that they elicit an equally extreme response. We, the poor long suffering ‘reality-based community’ are dragged down to their level. Even worse, some may be tempted to riot or commit acts of sabotage against the life-destroying superstructure. But that is exactly what the Right want, because violence is their strong suit and psychological preference. They are just itching for the opportunity to ‘crack down hard’ on ‘the enemy within’. This nascent fascist response is furthest developed, I believe, in your country, with the UK and Australia not far behind, and Canada bringing up the rear. The rest of the world looks on, bemused and worried, although the neo-fascist, market absolutist Right has its acolytes everywhere, with Eastern Europe ( Klaus in the Czech Republic is a florid specimen of the tendency)a particular worry. To defeat the Right, which battle, in my opinion, will decide the fate of humanity in the next few decades, we must box cunning.

  8. Jay Banks says:

    I have said many times before that to support to change an obsolete technology for the weather forecasting is more then necessary. To fund project of environmental monitoring satellites is one of the examples. To warn citizens in specific areas in advance against sudden weather changes can save many lives. It can have also an influence on real estate prices and their insurance so landlords can set the value of their property more precisely and I like to welcome such opportunity.

  9. Will Fox says:

    “underforecasting snowfall in Washington, D.C. by almost foot” – please correct the typo/missing word, thanks.

    [JR: TY!]

  10. Anne says:

    That’s OK, we don’t need civilian satellites – we can just turn all the weather prediction and monitoring over to Homeland Security/ DOD / military. They’ll look out for all of us, right?

  11. I agree with Jay,
    a better/accurate weather forecasts will save lives. It is better to spent money on system rather than damages. regards

  12. Joan Savage says:

    Another federal program that has experienced cutbacks is the US Geological Survey’s water monitoring. A visit to the USGS interactive page this morning illustrates its role in data for flood warnings, and at some monitoring stations, its relationship to the US Weather Service. waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt

    To illustrate:
    Western California is experiencing new day-records for high stream flow.
    In western Iowa (home of Steve King (R-IA) 5th congressional district) the streams are not presently in flood stage.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    The idea that reducing NOAA satellites would be equally harmful to all in the US is probably not the case.

    Awhile back at least one of the agribusinesses, Cargill, launched its own space satellite network for weather and crop monitoring around the world. The network provides information on the crop conditions of its competitors. There are some secondary comments on this private satellite network on the web. I haven’t gotten far into this enough to know if Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has a competitive satellite network. Cargill can be expected to lobby in its self-interest, as it does have to rely solely on provision of public-access data. Public-access data might give competitors around the world some advantage.

  14. Joan Savage says:

    Correction, please insert “NOT”.

    The idea that reducing NOAA satellites would be equally harmful to all in the US is probably not the case.

    Awhile back at least one of the agribusinesses, Cargill, launched its own space satellite network for weather and crop monitoring around the world. The network provides information on the crop conditions of its competitors. There are some secondary comments on this private satellite network on the web. I haven’t gotten far into this enough to know if Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has a competitive satellite network. Cargill can be expected to lobby in its self-interest, as it does NOT have to rely solely on provision of public-access data. Public-access data might give competitors around the world some advantage.

  15. DavInDnvr says:

    The NOAA satellites also have space-weather monitors (solar imagers, particle detectors, etc), which are important in predicting the effects of geomagnetic storms on satellites, predicting the satellite drag from solar EUV variations, and many other effects with considerable economic impacts.

  16. Robert In New Orleans says:

    If Republicans truly believe in smaller government they should volunteer to close their local national weather service offices.

    Part of the problem has been the out right bungling and the incompetant managerial oversight of the new(replacement) satellite programs.

  17. Jason says:

    Ask NOAA to show their standard deviation maps of precipitation skill with and without satellite data. It’s easy to make a case for a storm from a single storm, however major or minor. But show us a composite of major events, of all events, etc. I think we might be surprised how the change in the “accuracy” of these forecasts will turn out to be.

    Furthermore, show us the NWS’s forecasts for these storms with 3-day, 2-day, and 1-day lead times. Again, I think we will be surprised that even with “all” the data, the forecasts are still problematic. How many times have we heard forecasters discredit model solutions because of “convective feedback” or “unrealistic” moisture fields (see the Dec 26th, 2010 snowstorm for the Northeast)?

  18. MapleLeaf says:

    Robert @15,

    Good idea. How would Inhofe feel if they shut down the Storm Prediction Centre in Norman, Oklahoma?

    I mean, that place must cast a fortune to run and they too rely heavily on those wasteful and expensive satellites and other monitoring networks. Come on Inhofe, save us some real money here, to heck with severe weather watches and warnings in tornado alley. Maybe karma will dictate that Inhofe’s house takes a direct hit from an EF5 tornado with no warning because he and his cohorts bankrupted NOAA. (sarc off)

    It does not get much more myopic, ignorant and anti-science than Inhofe et al’s ideology folks. Thanks for nothing GOP.

  19. PaulinMI says:

    well, well, well,
    see what happens when there is no money?

    gee, how did that happen?

    i dunno.

  20. Eli Rabett says:

    Besides satellites, NOAA needs bigger computers. European forecasts are 1-2 days better than in the US because they invested.