Storm brews over QuikSCAT satellite

He says, he says.

William Proenza, director of the National Hurricane Center, has complained publicly about insufficient funding 'and, more specifically, that the Commerce Department has failed to grasp the problem posed by the potentially imminent loss of an aging weather forecasting satellite.

Seemingly in response, Commerce has ordered an unscheduled review of the center's ability to fulfill its mission. In addition, three senior forecasters at the center told the Miami Herald on July 3 that Proenza has exaggerated the problems, and have called for his resignation.

Jeff Masters, a Michigan-based meteorologist, says that there is a real danger associated with the loss of the QuikSCAT satellite, though it's not the one Proenza is warning about. According to Masters, the satellite is, indeed, valuable, 'particularly over remote ocean areas where we don't have any other data.' At the same time however, said Masters, 'I don't think the loss of QuikSCAT is going cause increases in errors [of predicting] land-falling U.S. hurricanes. I think that's been exaggerated.'

But the important data for tracking hurricanes nearing the United States comes from hurricane hunter aircraft, not satellites. What has Masters concerned is what effect the controversy at the National Hurricane Center will have on agency priorities. 'If we rush into this and immediately get a new QuikSCAT satellite with existing technology, we're really missing out on what we hope to be able to do with the next generation,' said Masters. 'With misconceptions such as Proeza's that the QuikSCAT is all important, there may be a push to take away money from things that are more important.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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