Lubchenco Reiterates Weather Satellite Data Gap Warning

Lubchenco Reiterates Weather Satellite Data Gap Warning

In testimony to a Senate Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco reiterated a warning she made earlier to a House committee that a gap in polar weather satellite data is “very likely” because Congress is not providing adequate funding for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

Responding to a question from subcommittee chairman Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), Lubchenco said that because the full-year FY2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) did not contain sufficient funding for JPSS, there will be “at least” an 18-month data gap because the launch date will slip by that many months, to September 2016 at the earliest. The gap will have “very serious consequences to our ability to do severe storm warnings, long term weather forecasts, search and rescue, and good weather forecasts for your State.” she told the Senator. Alaska benefits in particular from polar weather satellites since geostationary weather satellites, over the equator, do not have a good view of the polar regions.

When asked if there was a “Plan B,” she said that there really were no alternatives and NOAA was trying to “figure out how to miminize the damage.” She told the Senate committee, as she did the House, that for every dollar that is not spent now, the country will need to spend $3-5 in the future because contracts will have to be cancelled and restarted, and skilled workers will be let go and rehired.

At the very end of the hearing, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) wanted to know what was driving NOAA’s budget increase of 41 percent compared to its FY2008 level. Lubchenco said that she had not done a comparison with FY2008, but said satellites are the driver of current budget request increases. Defending the satellite program, Lubchenco said “a lot of people” ask “why do I need your satellites [when] I have the Weather Channel, but that’s where we get 98 percent of the information that goes into our weather forecasts…Satellites do a wide variety of things that are very important to saving lives and property and enabling commerce in our country.”

A webcast of the hearing before the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard is available on the Senate Commerce committee’s website. The discussion of NOAA satellites was a very small part of the hearing, which focused on fisheries issues.

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