NOAA Internal Letter: Lack of Funding for Satellites Will Mean "A Significant Decline...in Weather Forecasting"
June 3, 2011 • 10:26AM

An internal letter of June 1, from an administrator to staff in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), warns of the great danger that will result from cutting funding for weather satellites, in particular for tracking severe storms, especially hurricanes. Excerpts:

"When it comes to saving lives and protecting property, there should be no mistake about the high value of NOAA polar-orbiting environmental satellites (POES) and geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES)."

"A World Without POES?

"For more than 50 years, environmental satellites have helped our forecasters see the development of dangerous weather conditions up to several days in advance. But now, the ability to maintain this continuity it threatened.

"The lack of funding for the next generation of NOAA's polar-orbitting satellites—the Joint Polar Satellite System or JPSS—will jeopardize the timeliness and accuracy of NOAA weather forecasts because there would be no polar satellite flying in the afternoon orbit beginning 2016-17. This is the projected 'end of life' for the NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project (NPP) weather and climate spacecraft. Thanks to the dedicated work of our joint NOAA-NASA team, NPP is scheduled for launch October 25, 2011.

"After the end of NPP, however, there will be a significant decline in the accuracy of NOAA's longer-range weather forecasting, most notably our hurricane track prediction two days out and beyond.

"Because they fly about 540 miles above the Earth's surface and orbit the globe every 102 minutes, NOAA's POES are able to detect changes in the atmosphere that lead to severe weather several days later. For hurricanes, that means POES monitor sea-surface temperatures that fuel the development of tropical storms, while the GOES closely track the movement of the storms once they form.

"While GOES does the space-based heavy-lifting for hurricane forecasters, providing continuous imagery over active and developing tropical storms, POES collects a unique set of data, including information for input into weather forecasting models. It's a 'one-two' punch meteorologists and the public can't live without.

"As this year's above-normal hurricane season unfolds, each storm will be a stark reminder that the life of NOAA's satellite program is absolutely critical to NOAA meeting its mission today and tomorrow."