The U.S. Senate approved a bill that aims to bolster the capacity of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make seasonal weather predictions between 2 weeks and 2 years out.
“From long-term forecasting that can prevent costly agricultural losses to more actionable information about severe weather, this legislation will help save lives and reduce avoidable property loss,” Senator John Thune (R–SD), one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said after the vote, which passed by unanimous consent.
Congress last year stopped a previous version bill over a controversial study of a contested river basin in the Southeast that the bill would have mandated. The study was advocated by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who has long pushed for a dedicated radar site in Charlotte, along with the area’s meteorologists.
“No other city of Charlotte’s size currently has a radar situated more than 58 miles away,” Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist for the NBC affiliate serving Charlotte, wrote in a blog post in September 2015. “This has become a very dangerous situation in my opinion.”
The bill, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, H.R. 353, contains four sections that support research and programs to improve weather forecasting and its communication on short and long time scales.
The bill would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to:
• Establish a program to improve tornado warnings.
• Protect the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program, whose funding was previously slashed.
• Develop a formal plan for weather research.
• Develop an annual report on the state of its weather models.
• Develop forecasts on the subseasonal (two weeks to three months), seasonal (three months to one year) and interannual (up to two years) time scales.
• Consider options to buy commercially provided weather satellite data rather than launch expensive government satellites.
• Improve its watch-and-warning system based on recommendations from social and behavioral scientists.
The bill authorizes funding for the initiatives, totaling more than $170 million, but does not signal new or increased funding for NOAA. Instead, it offers guidance on what programs should receive specific funding amounts given the existing budget negotiated by the president and Congress.
Senators from both sides of the political aisle cheered the bill’s passage. “Our bill strengthens the science to forecast severe heat and cold, storms, tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes, helping us make our warnings more timely and accurate,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “It also improves how the government communicates these threats to the public, so that families and businesses can be prepared and stay safe.”
The bill also has support from AccuWeather, GeoOptics, Panasonic Avionics, Schneider Electric, Vaisala, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and the University of Oklahoma. “H.R. 353 will serve as a blue print for the next NOAA administrator,” said Barry Myers, chief executive of AccuWeather.
The bill will be sent to the House for consideration.