August 18, 2004
Bush Cancels Funding for Important Weather Satellite Program
BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
As a local charter boat captain I have a necessary familiarity with the remote sensing instrumentation employed by NASA and NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. These agencies provide some of the most valuable tools professionals such as myself rely on to make a living. My academic background is in meteorological science, which comes in quite handy and I apply that basic knowledge on a daily basis with help from NOAA to create working forecasts of weather conditions at sea. I depend on my experience at sea and on the derived meteorological products from key satellite systems to keep my clients and myself safe. However, you don't have to be a sea going captain to understand the importance of accurate weather forecasting services. It is of grave concern to me that the public is now exposed to a clear and present danger posed by the shut down of the TRMM satellite program. TRMM is an orbiting surveillance platform, which observes and reports important information needed to make sound weather forecasts. TRMM provides sea surface temperature and sea height data, which is factored into the statistical forecasting models, which estimate hurricane growth potential and direction of travel. The TRMM satellite program has been used for over a decade in successful forecasts of intensity and tracking for tropical systems like Hurricane Charley. To the dismay of working professionals, coastal residents and the world science community, funding for this vital program has been terminated by the Bush administration, even as these scientists argue that we are now handicapping our ability to deliver concise warnings of impending hurricane landfalls. The premature closure of this very valuable weather forecasting mission is certainly not laudable given our present circumstances.
The problem with TRMM is not technical; it is all about reassigned budget priorities to accommodate the president's vision of manned space exploration. In the absence of the political will to continue the program a decision was made to implement the controlled de-orbiting of this perfectly good life saving satellite. All because the mere $28 million to $36 million needed to operate the system for another two years could not be found in the new working budget shared between NASA and the Japanese space agency with whom we are in partnership.
Let's do some math and examine the false economy realized in this shortfall. Accurate forecasting reduces the scope and scale of evacuations. The costs of evacuating 1 mile of coastline has been estimated to be about $1 million dollars and there are hundreds if not sometimes thousands of miles evacuated during even a mild Hurricane season. The cost of a human life lost to a storm is a calculation that I would not care to endure and yet sadly many have done just that.
I would like to task Mr. Bush to justify why he deemed it appropriate for his administration to impair our forecasting system and thus blind our eyes to the next storm which arrives to take from us the very things government can not replace. I think that it is incumbent for him to assign the necessary funding to ensure that NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration can continue their mission of protecting the nation from the consequences of violent weather. Any reluctance to do so would be worthy of some very close attention by the residents of Florida. The president's recent visit to the disaster sites at Punta Gorda and Arcadia certainly takes on new meaning when we consider these implications.
Captain Wayne R. Genthner
A BUZZFLASH READER CONTRIBUTION
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.