Sen. Chuck Schumer: Weather forecasting requires investment in our aging satellite fleet

In a time when superstorms such as Sandy result in billions of dollars in damages, Congress needs to reverse its plans to cut $245 million in funding of the next generation of weather-data collecting satellites, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

“Efforts in Congress to slash hundreds of millions for a new fleet of weather satellites may endanger weather forecasting efforts as early as 2016, which in turn could threaten lives and property as catastrophic storms become more frequent,” Schumer said.

In 2014, the U.S. suffered eight major weather and climate events, each costing more than $1 billion in damages, and devastation would have been even worse if meteorologists did not have the data obtained by the satellites operated by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Schumer observed.

Some of the weather satellites now in orbit “are already beyond their expected lifetime,” said Accuweather.com senior vice-president Mike Smith. “We do not have spares in place and we’re behind in building spares and [in] higher-resolution data collection,” added Smith, who is a meteorologist.

Thanks to the data collected by the satellites, meteorologists were able to calculate that Hurricane Joaquin had only a 20% chance of hitting NYC, and that Joaquin, in combination with other weather systems, was likely to cause severe flooding in the Carolinas: “We got that right,” said Smith, noting that the forecasts predicting the devastating consequences of Superstorm Sandy were also on target, saving lives and money.

“We at AccuWeather support what the senator is proposing, because without knowing what weather systems are doing all over the entire world, it is not possible to make accurate forecasts,” Smith said. More than 80% of the data used in the forecasts is obtained by the satellites, Smith said.