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GOP cut crucial weather satellites with fierce hurricane season looming

By Joe Romm  

"GOP cut crucial weather satellites with fierce hurricane season looming"

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Climate Progress reported in March that NOAA said GOP’s proposed satellite funding cuts could halve accuracy of precipitation forecasts.   CAP’s Kiley Kroh updates the story.

HurricaneEarlier this year, Congressional Republicans decided accurate weather forecasting and hurricane tracking were services the American people could live without. The GOP-sponsored 2011 spending bill slashed the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, slashing $700 million targeted for an overhaul of the nation’s aging environmental satellite system. NOAA scientists have stated unequivocally the existing satellites will fail and if they aren’t replaced, the agency’s ability to provide life-saving information to the American people will be compromised. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator, told reporters yesterday that the agency’s hurricane outlook last year was “spot-on” and cautioned that “not having satellites and applying their latest capabilities could spell disaster“:

Satellites are a must-have when it comes to detecting and tracking dangerous tropical weather. Not having satellites and their capabilities could spell disaster. NOAA’s satellites underpin hurricane forecasts by providing meteorological data over vast areas where we don’t have other means of information.

Highlighting the critical need for accurate forecasting, yesterday NOAA released their annual hurricane forecast predicting yet another “above-normal” hurricane season. This year, Americans can expect up to 18 named storms and as many as six that could become category five hurricanes. Last year’s hurricane season was one of the busiest on record and that is a trend we can expect to continue. Rising ocean temperatures have been found to increase the frequency and intensity of hurricanes – and this year, ocean temperatures are four degrees higher than normal. These alarming trends aren’t limited to hurricanes – scientists have found that as a result of climate change, killer weather is now the “new normal.”

“Because we have insufficient funds in the ’11 budget, we are likely looking at a period of time a few years down the road where we will not be able to do the severe storm warnings and long-term weather forecasts that people have come to expect today,” Lubchenco said.

Though the GOP got their way this year, the battle over NOAA’s budget is far from over – if funding isn’t restored, the federal government will be limited in its ability to anticipate devastating storms and warn the citizens in harm’s way. Will the GOP be so dismissive of American lives the second time around?

Kiley Kroh, Associate Director for Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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33 Responses to GOP cut crucial weather satellites with fierce hurricane season looming

  1. Joan Savage says:

    What do congresspeople take for granted about weather forecasts for their home districts?

    CP has been careful to distinguish between the weather phenomena that have strong correlations to climate change (more extremes of moisture and drought) and those where the phenomena have complex pre-conditions (tornadoes) that are not as clearly correlated to climate changes. That said, the weather satellites are important for both hurricane and tornado forecasts.

    The tornado that devastated Joplin MO on May 22, 2011, and killed at least 89 people was one for which the city had a twenty (20) minute warning.
    http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=13&articleid=20110523_13_A1_JOPLIN186600&allcom=1

    That is a great improvement over an average of a five (5) minute warning in the early 1990s. The US Weather Service relies on multiple sources of information for tornado forecasts and imminent warnings, and satellites are part of that system.
    http://www.noaa.gov/factsheets/…/Tornadoes_web_version_final.pdf

    NOAA satellites have made it possible to make forecasts of increased likelihood of tornadoes days in advance. With hurricane warnings, we have also become used to having days ahead to prepare, not just a few hours or a few minutes to locate family members and either hunker down or get out through evacuation routes. (Remember the Texas evacuation from Hurricane Rita, with clogged superhighways in 2005?)

    The relatively low number of fatalities from extreme weather of all kinds in the US and around the world correlate well with satellite based warnings that save lives, even though it is often too late to save property, as is indicated by increase in the dollar amounts of disaster losses.

    PS Lubchenko’s statement was actually made on May 19, the day before the original Wonk Room post, not the day before the CP re-post.

  2. Ed Hummel says:

    I guess the Republicans in Congress and their corporate allies want to see repeats of the southern New England hurricane of 1938 or the Galveston hurricane of 1900 when a lack of warning because there were no satellites led to a huge number of fatalities that have since been avoided with similar storms because of those satellites. But what more can one expect from people who believe that science is just magic, or some devine revelation to a self-proclaimed chosen people, or the inevitable fruits of free enterprise.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    NOAA is on the Republican enemies list, due to their integrity and excellent scientific record. If some Americans die because of weakened monitoring of hurricanes and tornadoes, that’s just collateral damage in the greater mission of leaving our future up to Jesus and the oil companies.

  4. Joan Savage says:

    Does anyone have solid information on how much the private satellite systems (such as Cargill’s) depend on publicly owned satellites (such as NOAA’s) for the constant recalibration that is necessary for Global Positioning System (GPS) and the like to function?

  5. Wonhyo says:

    Extreme weather forecasting goes against the interest of wealthy conservatives. Successful weather forecasting helps everyone avoid the worst effects of extreme weather, not just the rich.

    If extreme weather is not correctly forecast, many of the lesser off will be devastated. While the rich may be hurt by weather effects as well, they can use their wealth to buy their way out of distress. This will accelerate the ongoing U.S. transition toward a feudal society, where the many become subservient to the few.

    As recently as five years ago, I would not have considered such strong class warfare. Today it is undeniable. How else can you explain the consistent, brazen, and unrelenting campaign by rich conservatives to amass further wealth at public expense, using the tools of public policy?

  6. Zetetic says:

    @ Joan Savage #1:
    Part of the problem with the Republican mindset is that of…. “If it’s not specifically in the U.S. Constitution, then it shouldn’t be allowed. Period.”

    Since the US Constitution doesn’t specifically authorize the use of orbital satellites to warn the public about hurricanes it therefore is a waste of resources and possibly illegal, according to their dogma. Never-mind that they couldn’t even have imagined such technology back then. Also making the public more vulnerable to the weather helps to keep the “peasants” desperate and dependent on the largess of the politicians is a nice benefit for them too.

  7. Mauri Pelto says:

    Oil subsidies are vital and hurricane forecasting is not, that is a hard priority list to stomach from the last week.

  8. DaveE says:

    Wonhyo (#5)–I agree with you entirely about the US rush towards feudalism. This is clearly the direction we are going, except as I understand it, in true feudalism the landowners had responsibilities to their serfs as well. It seems the we are headed towards a feudalism where the “nobility” has no responsibilities whatsoever.

  9. Mimikatz says:

    Look at the areas where tornadoes and hurricanes are a major problem and correlate it with the 2008 presidential and even more, the 2010 midterm elections. New England-New York should invest in a regional warning system. Beyond that, it is Darwin at work.

  10. Rob says:

    People want lots of services from government but seem unwilling to pay for them. How about balancing on darn budget. since we currently spend almost 40% more than we take in in terms of revenue DON”T YOU ALL KNOW PAINFULL CUTS WILL HAPPEN?

  11. Mimikatz says:

    I didn’t mean to sound cruel, but the people directly affected by these extreme weather events need to pressure officials to keep the warning systems. We need to look our for each other and be ready to help when disaster strikes anyone. But the areas that need see systems can ‘t keep electing idiots to office who won’t take care of them on the mostmbasic level of protective services without having consequences.

  12. Ken Johnson says:

    TO what extent does the nation’s aging environmental satellite system provide critical services outside of the U.S., and would it make sense to overhaul the satellite system as a collaborative international program?

  13. john atcheson says:

    #10 Rob — I’m not exactly sure what you’re saying, but if you’re defending budget cuts as a necessity, you’ve been duped. Look at the People’s Budget put out by the Progressive Caucus — it balances the budget well before any Republican budget and it doesn’t have the kind of Draconian cuts that hurt the country.

    The deficit “crisis” was manufactured by Republicans as an excuse to eviscerate government — they function on a mindless knee-jerk Ayn Rand philosophy: If Gubmint does it, it’s bad.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    * Iola , Kansas, yesterday Northwest of Joplin . Set a new all time rainfall record 8.4 inches beating the old record of 6.8 inches set 1915 -

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/records/all-tim e/prcp/2011/05/22?sts[]=US#records_look_up

  15. PeterM says:

    At this point the red states in flyover country and the gulf coast are a doomed geographic region as early as 2020- 2030 at the latest.

    Demographic trends in the coming decades will be opposite that of the last 5 decades of the 20th century.

    Those who will need accurate consise weather forecasting will be hurt the most. While those states without a planatation idealogy will give their citizens fair warning.

  16. barbara says:

    Last night my brother (in Ohio) sent me a link to the noaa site. Said he watches the weather loop often and said of last nights loop, “the entire Eastern U.S. is just lighting up with precipitation–very, very unusual.” I don’t often check east coast weather (I’m in the west) so don’t know how unusual, or if, it really is. Anybody have insight into last nights weather? I apologize for not being able to make this a link but this is the site he referenced:
    http://radar.weather.gov/Conus/full_loop.php

  17. Brandi says:

    What do a bunch of luddites need this fancy hocus pocus called science for? Kind of ironic that a bunch of people would believe some crack pot apocalypse warning than the real dangers we are facing. Why do something we you can blame it on fate.

  18. barbara says:

    Great, it did come up as a link. Thanks, CP.

  19. Bill W says:

    I would imagine that the GOP cuts to NOAA were aimed at “shooting the messenger” of climate change. Loss of weather forecasting ability is just collateral damage.

  20. Sou says:

    Now at 393.18 ppm CO2. At this rate we’ll hit 400 ppm in three or four years. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I think we need those satellites.

    Agree that if the USA thinks it can’t afford it on its own, maybe it needs to get more collaborative efforts going with other nations. Many nations collaborate on lots of things that are not as important as this.

  21. David Fox says:

    Is it wrong to wish for a 1,000 year hurricane to make a direct hit on Washington D.C.?

  22. Richard Brenne says:

    This is part of a larger trend where the richest don’t want to pay any taxes to support the building, maintaining and upgrading of the infrastructure that generates all wealth.

    And this is coming while all infrastruce has done nothing but get bigger and more complex, making it more vulnerable to crumbling and collapse of all kinds.

    And this is set in the context of bigger droughts, heat waves and storms of all kinds due to accelerating climate change, as well as resource depletion in all areas leading to what Richard Heinberg calls Peak Everything.

    Maybe the richest in history who whine more than any group in history about paying taxes they can clearly afford feel that weather satellites are unnecessary given the redundancy of forecasts in hell.

  23. Lisa Boucher says:

    Pardon me if this has already been covered on Climate Progress, but I didn’t see it here.

    I just stumbled across this March 2011 report from the World Bank that is remarkably blunt about the link between climate change and the increasing damage from natural disasters:

    It Is Time to Factor Natural Disasters into Macroeconomic Scenarios   (PDF)

    “Despite the recurring nature of natural disasters, governments and international aid organizations do not systematically plan for preventing and mitigating their effects.  For example, almost half of the countries borrowing from the World Bank for disaster response did not mention disaster prevention in their development plans….

    The frequency of hydro-meteorological disasters — especially floods and droughts — has dramatically increased over the last two decades.  Compared with some 150 disasters per year in the 1980s, that number increased to more than 370 in the late 2000s.  The floods in Australia, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and West Africa and the heat waves in the Russian Federation during 2010–11 wreaked havoc on lives and livelihoods.  The World Bank estimated that $1 billion worth of crops were lost in Pakistan, which paralyzed the country.  Remarkably, using the same measurement criteria, the number of nonclimatic — mainly geophysical — disasters reported has not increased much during the same time.  This notable difference in trends does not seem to be the result of better reporting of floods today.  One would expect any underreporting to affect mainly the less severe disasters.  However, the proportion of less severe flooding events (10–100 deaths) reported within the total number of flooding events has remained practically constant during 1985–2008, at about 55 percent.”

  24. catman306 says:

    Would it be cheaper to buy the climate satellite information from some other nation, who’s satellites could still be launched into orbit, than launch our own satellites?

    Will trade food for satellite data. What? We don’t have any to spare?

    Cooperation vs. Competition

  25. Barry says:

    One more nail in the GOP coffin.

    The weather is just going to get more extreme and more destructive.

    The GOP’s game plan of stopping all attempts at trying to limit just how extreme our weather gets … while instead spending the money on billions in tax-breaks to the rich and the oil companies … will just bury the party as the misery of what they are creating becomes reality soon.

    I imagine the remaining reality-based Republicans are starting on a secret re-branding scheme already.

  26. Richard Brenne says:

    Joan Savage (#1) – Your comment is well-written and accurate as always. One small part you could add is that of increased temperatures and heat waves as the most direct affect of climate change.

    And to me floods, hurricanes and tornadoes all fall in the same general category, that 20th Century data (which is most of what is measured, with some studies concluding then or soon after) doesn’t show a clear increase in any (except for the intensity of hurricanes and maybe floods globally, but so far not nationally, according to longtime head of hydrology for the USGS Bob Hirsch), but the best experts like Kevin Trenberth feel that the 21st Century will look much different with 4 to possibly 40 per cent more water vapor in the atmosphere (equivalent to 1.5 to 15 Lake Superiors worth of water) and the additional energy equivalent to the output of 190,000 to 1,900,000 nuclear reactors added to the system.

    In fact within just the last few years and last year or so especially we might be reaching a kind of tipping point toward a 21st Century reality very different from the 20th and far beyond what could be explained by natural variability alone.

    Increased warming means increased sea surface temperatures often to record or near-record levels that absolutely add energy and severity to any kind of storm that does form. This has been a primary factor in the storms that led to record flooding in Pakistan, Australia and many other places within the last year.

    In terms of tornadoes, it is important to differentiate between an unlucky hit and a record or near-record severe outbreak. The tornado in Joplin is thought to be the only one that reached the ground in the area yesterday but it went just south of the downtown and within the boundaries of a fairly large city.

    The tornado outbreak in Alabama centered around April 27 encountered temperatures of 91 degrees and 70 per cent relative humidity (what I thought I heard Stu Ostro say, I think you said that probably wasn’t possible, then maybe Colorado Bob and/or others I thought established that it was – where does that stand now?) which would be far more unusual for that date without global warming.

    Interestingly Bill Mahar said to Harry Shearer and his other panelists a couple of weeks ago that “Come on, all the tornadoes and everything – that’s global warming.”

    In a recent conversation after seeing his documentary about New Orleans Shearer impressed me as an unusually careful scholar relative to most comedians and especially good with details (although he doesn’t seem to see the big picture of how unsustainable New Orleans is – he wants to blame only the Army Corps of Engineers for something that is more society’s and Louisianan’s fault) and so he responded to Mahar “Certainly we’re seeing more reality shows.”

    You and I and most others here would like to see a comment from Mahar that had all the caveats you and I mention above, but I think over enough time Mahar’s comment will ultimately prove to be correct. Relative to all the statements (that are the tiniest fraction of all the statements there should be)made by everyone in the mainstream media it is certainly more bold that almost any and probably more accurate than most.

    Anyway, keep up your great comments and work, and generally you sound more Joan than Savage.

  27. Susan Anderson says:

    It is so obvious that they don’t want people to have real information. Kind of like the church at the time of Martin Luther.

  28. Susan Anderson says:

    I would like to see an answer to Joan Savage’s #4 query about private dependency on NOAA satellite information.

    And thanks especially to Lisa Boucher 23 who points out that the economic consequences of disaster need to be counted and are already mounting at an extreme rate. This is an approach to the problem that is not common enough, and is so very obvious. Every time a federal disaster is declared a lot of money is obligated. Case of prevention being cheaper than cure, is there anyone in conservativeland that has a brain – at all?

  29. Yvan Dutil says:

    I have worked on an instrument for this satellite. This is a big problem, not only for USA but for the whole planet. Data from weather satellite are shared all around the world. This is true for any data for any country. You need this collaboration if you want to be able to produce some meaningful weather prediction a few days in advance.

    They aer three primary low earth orbit weather satellites: 2 US and One European. The same is true for the geostationary satellites. By additional data from other remote sensing platform are include in teh data ssimilation process. Indeed, that from Japanese, Indian and Chinese geostationary cover some gap in the data. In addition, some component are shared between satellite.

  30. Jim Groom says:

    Everything the GOP house has come up with lately strikes me as being much like suicide. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. They act as if you cut money from a problem area the actual problem will somehow go away. My grandson used to hide his head in a couch cushion believing that if he could not see us then he could not be seen, however, he still had to get into bed. Their short sighted fixation on cost-cutting is pursuing something akin to religious zealotry and it will become their Waterloo…or at least I certainly hope that it becomes so.

  31. Oakden Wolf says:

    The next step after seeing what they did to the weather satellite budget is to see what they’ve done to the FEMA budget.

    “The Homeland Security appropriations bill cuts $2.1 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency state and local grant program, which the committee has deemed wasteful and backlogged. To balance this out, it adds to the federal Disaster Relief Fund.”

    Now, what happens if there’s a solid hurricane hit or a significant earthquake? Are there enough funds in the budget for that, or are they still going to be jawing about raising the debt ceiling?

    It’s just enough to make one nauseous. But my real empathy is for those who are in harm’s way.

  32. Jim Groom says:

    More typical news coming from the GOP in the house. They are now proposing massive cuts to food nutrition programs at home and abroad. America has been a beacon of light to the world for decades and the major source of food in times of need. Apparently they believe we can lower our assistance to those in great need, unless they can use a dandy tax break. Here at home such action certainly proves that the GOP never has a problem harming those who have only a small voice in congress, unlike Big Oil and Big Pharma. Low income seniors, children and the most vulnerable among us will again be paying the price in the false battle-cry of fiscal responsibility.

  33. prokaryotes says:

    So what’s going on? Why are there so many tornadoes, and so many people getting killed? Well, the high death toll this year is partly just bad luck. Violent EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes usually miss heavily populated areas, and we’ve had the misfortune of having two such tornadoes track over cities with more than 50,000 people (the Joplin tornado, and the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham EF-4 tornado in Alabama, which killed 61 people on April 27.) This sort of bad luck occurred in both 1953, when F-5 tornadoes hit Flint, Worcester, and Waco, and in 1936, when F-5s hit Tupelo and Gainesville. However, this year’s death toll is more remarkable than the 1953 or 1936 death tolls, since in 2011 we have Doppler radar and a modern tornado warning system that is very good at providing an average of twelve minutes of warning time. The warning time for the Joplin tornado was 24 minutes. The first tornado warning wasn’t issued until 1948, and virtually all tornadoes from the 1950s and earlier hit with no warning. On average, tornado deaths in the United States decreased from 8 per 1 million people in 1925 to 0.12 per 1 million people in 2000. Had this year’s tornadoes occurred 50 years ago, I expect the death toll would have exceeded three thousand.
    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=1808