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Trump administration cuts will hurt weather forecasting

Cars make their way up a snow covered

Cars make their way up a snow covered Interstate 95 near Greenwich, Conn., March 14, 2017. A storm, named Stella, dumped snow and sleet Tuesday across the northeastern United States. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Timothy A. Clary

Long Island saw it all Tuesday — snow, sleet, rain, ice, wind — and though Stella delivered less of a blow than expected, most people smartly listened to warnings about slick roads and flooding and exercised appropriate caution.

But even as its unexpected westward track was proof anew that Mother Nature can be fickle, the storm also was a reminder of the importance of forecasts as accurate as possible. That means having good data on which to base predictions. And that requires satellites, which provide the vast majority of information used in weather forecasting.

So Tuesday showed again how alarming it is that the Trump administration proposes to slash the budget of the satellite division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 22 percent, or $513 million. The overall cut to NOAA is 17 percent, and reportedly includes scrapping two weather satellites slated to launch in 2024 and 2026. That’s a problem. NOAA’s satellites are aging, and federal watchdogs say possible gaps in satellite coverage is a “high risk” issue. What’s more, the already short-staffed National Weather Service itself faces a 5 percent cut.

The administration needs money for a Southern border wall and increased military spending, and the cuts also are tied philosophically to its desire to curtail climate-change research. NOAA’s satellites provide critical data for researchers worldwide. But the cuts are shortsighted.

Accurate forecasts lead to better warnings and preparations for evacuations and power outages. They’re vital to the energy, agriculture, tourism and transportation industries. Experts say a third of the U.S. economy depends on weather, climate and natural hazard data. That’s why NOAA launched a satellite in November that can detect and pinpoint lightning, data that promises to improve forecasts of severe weather.

Long Islanders remember trains stranded for hours, roads littered with abandoned cars stuck in snow, people trapped in houses with rising floodwaters, homes powerless for days. Some people will ignore warnings and make poor choices no matter what, but Stella showed that most will follow sound advice. We should be trying to improve forecasting, not hamper it. Better data lead to better decisions and better outcomes, for people and for government. — The editorial board


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