According to new projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s hurricane season could be even more intense than previously projected. NOAA says there’s an 85 percent chance this year’s activity in the Atlantic will be above average — up from a 65% probability in May.
A major hurricane hasn’t hit the U.S. coast since 2008. But NOAA’s outlook for “high hurricane activity” has communities preparing for a season in which 19 major storms could form — ten of them hurricanes and five “major” hurricanes. A number of forces are driving this year’s potentially-active season, including temperatures in the Atlantic that are the third-warmest on record.
Meanwhile in Washington, NOAA could be undergoing some major changes that could impact the agency’s ability to monitor hurricanes and help coastal communities protect themselves. America’s satellites are in need of some serious upgrades — about $700 million worth. NOAA officials say that without an overhaul of the satellite system, hurricane and severe weather predictions would “spell disaster.”
With major budget cuts on the table, NOAA is facing some difficult choices. The House of Representatives has put aside about $450 million for satellite upgrades, just over half of what they need. But that money comes from NOAA’s oceans and fisheries programs, which would take away another very crucial piece of severe weather preparation, explains Center for American Progress’ Director of Oceans Policy Michael Conathan:
Funding the weather service and increasing the commitment to satellite programs by slashing the NOAA’s ocean programs simply displaces the problem. The best protection we have against coastal storms are natural surge barriers in the form of healthy wetland ecosystems, yet Congress has failed to address the critical need to protect and restore these vital areas. Knowing when and where a hurricane will hit is the first step, but we also must make sure we’re doing everything in our power to mitigate the damage caused by these increasingly frequent storms.
Despite the GOP’s goal of making government more efficient, a proposed House spending bill also explicitly prevents NOAA from streamlining and consolidating its operations to create a comprehensive climate service. Although the climate service would help the military, farmers, home builders and others more efficiently acquire data to assist them in their operations, lawmakers have called it a “policy advocacy,” a grossly inaccurate description— and indeed, a political statement in itself.
Today, there are double the number of hurricanes forming in the Atlantic than there were a century ago. NOAA projects that rising ocean temperatures will decrease the number of weaker hurricanes, but possibly double the number of strong hurricanes over the next 80 years.