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July 20, 2020

Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Sherrill Holds Teleconference on NOAA’s Wildfire Preparedness and COVID-19 Impacts

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Environment held a teleconference with Mr. John Murphy, Chief Operating Officer of the National Weather Service (NWS); Dr. Mitch Goldberg, Chief Scientist of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) at the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), and Dr. Jennifer Mahoney, Director of the Global Systems Laboratory at the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) to discuss the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) preparations for the above-average wildfire season, their coordination efforts with other federal agencies, state agencies, and local fire departments, and the impacts of COVID-19 on these activities.

“Due to climate change, wildfires are growing in size, frequency, and intensity, and wildfire seasons are becoming longer,” said Chairwoman Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) of the Subcommittee on Environment. “On top of this, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major challenges in our ability to prepare for and respond to wildfires. I look forward to discussing NOAA’s role in wildfire monitoring, forecasting, and response, and the work they’re doing to ensure the continuity of these operations during the pandemic.”

In addition to discussing preparations for wildfire season, the Members and panelists on the call discussed NOAA’s Fire Weather Program, and additional wildfire-related research and development, and monitoring work. Participants of the call focused on how states prone to wildfires are already underprepared for the above-average fire season that is predicted following a dry winter and low spring snowpack due to climate change. Members and panelists also discussed how COVID-19 is already exacerbating underlying staffing shortages and other vulnerabilities for firefighters.

“Extreme weather events, such as wildfires, don’t take a break just because Americans are dealing with a global pandemic,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “It is extremely important that we continue to support NOAA’s efforts to warn us and help us to respond to wildfires. The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for federal, state, and local fire officials, and I look forward to hearing about the steps NOAA is taking to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on their efforts.”