Subcommittee Examines How NOAA Can Better Prioritize Weather Forecasting R&D

Jun 26, 2013

Washington, D.C. – The Environment Subcommittee today held its second hearing in a two-part series to examine ways to improve weather forecasting at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and to receive testimony on draft legislation to prioritize weather-related research. The first hearing was held May 23rd.

Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-Utah): “Severe weather routinely affects large portions of the United States, and this year is no different.  The United States needs a world-class weather prediction system that effectively safeguards American lives and property. The draft legislation is a down payment to upgrade our weather prediction system that has fallen behind international standards.”

The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013, introduced by Environment Subcommittee Vice Chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), prioritizes forward-looking weather research, improves procurement of observing system data from space, air and land.  The intent of the bill is to make the protection of lives and property through improved forecasting the top priority for NOAA by expanding resources available for achieving this objective.

Vice Chairman Bridenstine: “As every Oklahoman knows, tornadoes are an unavoidable challenge faced by millions of Americans.  But we know equally well that every minute we can add to our tornado detection and alert systems has a direct effect on the number of lives that can be saved.  The inadequacy of attention to potentially life-saving advances in weather forecasting is evidenced by the fact that NOAA’s research arm currently spends more than three times as much on climate change research than it does on weather forecasting research.  Across all government agencies, the difference in these misplaced priorities can be measured in the billions of dollars.”

The draft legislation would establish within NOAA a Tornado Warning Extension Program aimed at improving the average time for a tornado warning.  NOAA has indicated that this is a worthy and achievable goal, but sufficient resources and a dedicated effort is needed to make it a reality. 

Within NOAA, the National Weather Service (NWS), the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) play important roles in developing and deploying U.S. weather forecasting capabilities. NOAA is also joined in this effort by an ever-evolving weather enterprise with the private sector. The National Academy of Sciences recently emphasized the importance of this partnership, noting that “[p]rivate sector and other organizations provide sensor data, weather forecasts, and end-user services to a broad set of customers.” The draft legislation opens up NOAA’s process to encourage more cooperation and private sector weather solutions.

The following witnesses testified today:

Panel 1
The Honorable Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Panel 2
Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Vice President for Research, Regents’ Professor for Meteorology, Weathernews Chair Emeritus, University of Oklahoma.
Dr. William Gail, Chief Technology Officer, Global Weather Corporation, President-Elect, American Meteorological Society.
Dr. Shuyi Chen, Professor, Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami.