The weather in these United States has been truly frightful in the last couple of years, as this graph — provided to Congress with testimony from NOAA administrator Kathryn Sullivan last month — illustrates:
Yet as the demand for longer term forecasts, which are based on satellite observations, skyrockets, Congress is cutting back on the budget for satellite platforms. Sullivan warned:
Polar-orbiting satellites are the backbone of all model forecasts at three days and beyond; however, the launch of the next generation of NOAA's polar-orbiting satellites, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), has been delayed by the FY 2011 appropriations process. As a result, NOAA is faced with a nearly 100% chance of a data gap in the U.S. civilian polar orbit, on which both civilian and military users rely, by late 2016 to early 2017 when the current polar satellites reach the end of their life expectancy. JPSS is a critical part of NOAA's future infrastructure needed to continue our path of forecast improvement – and to maintain what we have built over the last 30 years.
Specifically, the administration asked Congress for more money for NOAA and related satellite observation programs, about $6.5 billion, and instead Congress cut a little less than a billion from the budget, leaving the overall budget at about $4.5 billion.
NOAA chief Jane Lubchenko is not happy, and says that already the U.S. will be without a polar orbiting satellite for at least 18 months, starting in 2016.
“Whether the gap is longer than that depends on whether we get the money”— $1 billion — “in the next budget,” warned Dr. Lubchenco, an environmental scientist. “I would argue that these satellites are critically important to saving lives and property and to enabling homeland security.”
Congress isn't listening; in fact, the GOP wants to fund disaster relief only if matching cuts can be made elsewhere, and may force victims of disasters in the Mid-West to wait as Hurricane Irene victims get immediate help, according to a front-page story in today's Los Angeles Times.