Rebecca Rosen over at The Atlantic breathless writes, “What If We Didn’t Know Hurricane Sandy Was Coming?“
It’s no exaggeration that our ability to forecast storms saves lives and dollars every year. But what if we were no longer able to make those forecasts?
Of course, it’s not that we would lose the knowledge of how to do so. The problem is that we might lose the data that feeds our models.
The New York Times reports that our weather-monitoring satellites — which fly from pole to pole, crossing the critical zone around the Equator in the early afternoon — are dying, and mismanagement and underfunding (generally resulting from Bush-era decisions or congressional Republican budgets) mean that replacement ones are behind schedule. ($182 million dollars for the weather satellites will disappear should sequestration — automatic cuts looming in 2013 — come to pass.) The result may be “a year or more” without the data these satellites provide.
Or maybe not. . .
The newest NOAA satellite, the Suomi NPP, launched last October but it is not known whether it will last until JPSS-1 is ready to go — many of its instruments are new and it is therefore difficult to predict their survival in orbit. If Suomi sputters out before JPSS-1, as government officials believe is likely, the gap would come in afternoon data collection, a time period critical because it covers the peak of midday heat, data necessary for our atmospheric models. This chart from the NOAA NESDIS Independent Review Team shows this gap below.
Well, for starters, we should be asking why a mulch-million-dollar satellite only lasts for six years (when the JPSS-1 is due to launch.) And two, the “gap” is only in the afternoon data collection.
There’s no other way to gather the data for the afternoon? We can’t fly a plane through the storm? We can use a military satellite to track the storm’s movements?
And finally, for the title of Rosen’s piece to be true, there would have to be a breakdown with all of our weather satellites, not just the afternoon forecast, as well as the loss of every sort of other weather collection device ever used. Not likely, to say the least.