Sins of sequestration: Nation’s weather forecasting compromised

The sequester will slash the National Weather Service budget and compromise its ability to produce reliable weather forecasts.

An 8.2 percent across-the-board cut in spending, from the so-called sequester, will trim already financially-depleted programs critical for maintaining and improving the NWS’ weather capabilities.

“It’s not going to be pretty,” said outgoing National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (according to Climate Central). “The sequester has the potential to wreak havoc with so many different things…”

Don’t forget that these have been record-setting years for weather.

The cuts loom large following a two-year onslaught of extreme weather, including Superstorm Sandy and continuing historic drought conditions in the Heartland. In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. experienced the most and second most number of billion dollar weather disasters on record.

Cheerleaders for America were horrified when the European weather forecasting model beat out the National Weather Service’s in predicting the path of Superstorm Sandy. Turns out it takes money to make accurate predictions, and there may be even less of it now.

The cash-strapped National Weather Service is facing increasing scrutiny over its inferior computer modeling power compared to international peers and is anticipating a likely gap in weather satellite coverage. Last week, the Government Accountability Office ranked the pending satellite gap among the top 30 threats facing the Federal government.

The Department of Commerce warned that not only will the loss of satellite data and imagery diminish the quality of forecasts, but so will other important weather data surrendered by spending cuts.

“NOAA will face the loss of highly trained technical staff and partners,” a DOC spokesperson said. “As a result, the government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error and, the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.”

With global warming on the rise and the polar ice caps melting, we can look forward to extreme weather events with more frequency. It’s the perfect time to increase funding to the National Weather Service–not cut it.

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