How budget cuts could rain on your picnic

Starting in 2016, making plans for weekend activities might become substantially more difficult if you can’t trust the long-range weather forecast.

As part of Congress’ aggressive belt-tightening, a weather satellite scheduled for launch in 2016 might need to wait an extra 18 months before entering orbit to help provide accurate forecasts, writes USA Today’s Bart Jansen. As part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System constellation, the new satellite would help NOAA issue severe storm warnings, long-range weather forecasts, and search and rescue information, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told Jansen.

President Barack Obama has requested enough money for NOAA to launch the polar satellite, which flies at a lower altitude than other weather satellites so that it can deliver timely, precise information, Jansen writes. However, that $5.5 billion request for fiscal 2012 is nearly $1 billion more than the agency’s $4.6 billion budget for this fiscal year, and Congress is in no mood to spend more money.

Predicting the outcome of political wrangling might be as fruitful as predicting the weather. And that might help fuel the argument of cost-conscious members of Congress.

Although NOAA’s weather reports tend to be more accurate than local TV weather forecasts — or, perhaps, guesses? — they are far from perfect, writes Stephen Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics: The Hidden Side of Everything,” in a blog post on the Freakonomics website. Citing a part-time stats junkie’s research, Dubner mentions that local TV reports and NOAA revise weather forecasts significantly as a particular day approaches. Some Kansas City, Mo., local TV meteorologists told Dubner they had no idea what the weather would be more than three days out and accuracy in weather predictions was not as important a hiring criteria as on-air presence.

However, NOAA officials assert they need that polar satellite to be above the Earth by 2016 to deliver early warnings. Deputy Administrator Kathryn Sullivan told NPR’s Jon Hamilton that polar satellites are the backbone of those warnings. NOAA used such information to warn residents of Alabama and Mississippi a week ahead of time before the tornado outbreak that tore through those states in April.

About the Author

Michael Protos is a web content editor with 1105 Government Information Group.

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