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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Groundhogs say, No way! DC’s fake Punxsutawney Phil has got to go

Photo by Washington Post

by Groundhog Johnny (@GroundhogJohnny)

They call him the “brother” of Punxsutawney Phil. But in reality he’s a trussed-up travesty procured from Miss Pixie’s vintage store.

For the second year in a row, the District will trot out this dog and pony show–or should we say groundhog and pony show?–for its supposed metereological delights, the Washington Post reports.

At the District’s second annual Groundhog Day celebration, “Potomac Phil” will look for his shadow in Dupont Circle Saturday morning to determine how long winter will last.

According to legend, if one of the Phils — be it the real-life Punxsutawny or the taxidermied Potomac — sees his shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last six more weeks.

Last year, “Potomac Phil” (if that is his real name) predicted six more weeks of winter and nine more months of Congressional deadlock. This year, we hear that once again there will be fortune-telling.

This being Washington, Potomac Phil is also expected to make political predictions, organizers said.

But not everyone is fooled by this chicanery.

Some revelers hesitated to get too close because they said Potomac Phil, with his grizzled fur and aggressive expression, looked “creepy.”

Media hyperbole has raised the public’s hopes. They anticipate accurate weather forecasting and inside-the-beltway political knowledge in these uncertain times, depend on it even.

The predictions are slated to be the main event in a morning of celebration, which will include live accordion music and polka dancing.

Last year’s event also included cookies shaped like groundhogs and an opportunity to take photos with the “National Groundhog.”

Look, I’m down with the cookies. But only a real, live groundhog can make accurate predictions. And what of “Potomac Phil,” forced to be the subject of this mockery? Groundhog Day in the Nation’s Capital should be a bellwether event, not a farce. We need a real National Groundhog. Too many people’s lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Groundhog Johnny, head of the #FreeFakePhil campaign, humbly submits himself for consideration as the first real, live National Groundhog
Groundhog Johnny, head of the #FreeFakePhil campaign, humbly submits himself for consideration as the first real, live National Groundhog