The Weather Channel: Weather Forecasting at Risk

February 21, 2013

During The Weather Channel’s (TWC) Morning Rush segment on February 19, IGES President Nancy Colleton described the potential of a weather satellite data gap as “very, very serious.”

TWC’s Mike Bettes asked Colleton and TWC Business Weather Expert Paul Walsh to discuss the latest Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) High Risk List, which identified mitigating gaps in both civil and military weather satellite data as one of 30 high-risk areas to government operations.

Walsh emphasized the link between weather and the economy, referencing studies that have estimated the annual impact of routine weather to about $500 billion a year.  With “so much riding” on the nation’s ability to monitor, sense and predict atmospheric activity, he argued, “we just cannot…afford to roll back our abilities to predict the weather”

The potential gap in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) polar weather satellite program is estimated to occur in the 2016-2017 timeframe between the end of life of existing polar weather satellites and the launch of the first spacecraft in the Join Polar Satellite System (JPSS). Colleton explained that the gap could last anywhere from 17 to 53 months.

Colleton suggested that while sequestration represents a real threat, noting that the National Weather Service would face a five to 10 percent cut, the problem goes beyond the current crisis. “These are long-term problems,” she said, “if we are going to correct our potential gap in weather coverage, we need to look long term.”

 Long term solutions are also needed to tackle another high-risk area identified for the first time by GAO: climate change. Colleton stated that “our weather forecasting capability is the first line of defense for all Americans against climate change.” As a result, she emphasized that ensuring the availability of our observational capabilities should be “front and center” in the Administration’s climate change strategy.

With respect to ensuring Earth observations are in the President’s agenda moving forward, Colleton said that “We have got to make sure that whomever the President selects as his next Secretary of Commerce…recognizes the importance of observational and weather capabilities to our economy.” 

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