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Aging satellites cloud future of weather forecasting

Here in D.C. today, we've been waiting for a bank of showers to hit town. Any hour now, we'll be breaking out our umbrellas for trips outside the office. Myself, I keep hitting Weather.com for updates.

Like almost all weather forecasting products, this site, run by Weather Channel Interactive Inc., gets its forecasts from the National Weather Service. It's easy to forget what immensely valuable information this agency offers.

Such forecasts, however, may be in danger of degrading over the next decade, according to the IEEE's Spectrum. The magazine reports that U.S. earth-observing satellites are aging and agencies have few replacements planned. And with fewer birds aloft, the National Weather Service will have less data to make climate predictions.

The story was based on a report recently published by the National Academy of Sciences, ' Earth Science and Applications From Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond.'

That study found that "Between 2006 and the end of the decade, the number of operating missions will decrease dramatically and the number of operating sensors and instruments on NASA spacecraft, most of which are past their nominal lifetimes, will decrease by some 40 percent."

'There's a train wreck coming,' report co-author William Gail told Spectrum.

The magazine reports that NASA's budget for earth science applications has dropped about 30 percent since 2000 and that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the National Weather Service, has spread its budget across more duties in recent years. Although there is a slight growth in the budget in the next two years, steeper cuts are being projected afterwards.

Stormy weather ahead.--Posted by Joab Jackson

Posted by Joab Jackson on Apr 11, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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