Weather Forecasting—Outlook Unclear
Posted on January 22, 2015
Weather forecasts can warn people before major storms strike—allowing time to protect homes, businesses, and lives. We have previously discussed the importance of the satellites the United States uses for its forecasts, and wanted to update our readers on recent developments in this area. Which Satellites Are Involved? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has 2 main satellite programs for weather forecasting:
- The Joint Polar Satellite Program (JPSS) for medium to long-term weather forecasts: JPSS builds and maintains a network of satellites that are key to forecasting the path and intensity of major storms. For instance, polar satellite data increased the accuracy of forecasts for “Snowmageddon” in 2010.
- The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series Program (GOES-R) for “Nowcasts”: GOES-R is an additional network of geostationary satellites for near-real-time data on the local effects of weather events, like the path of Superstorm Sandy in late 2012.
Excerpted from GAO-15-47We also found that GOES-R could experience gaps in coverage if its satellites currently in orbit don’t last as long as anticipated, or if replacement satellites are delayed. Both of the current GOES-R satellites could go offline in the next 2 years, and the current program to replace them has experienced delays in both launch and in achieving major milestones. Due to the likelihood of gaps in weather satellite data, we added this issue to our High Risk List in 2013. This podcast further explains the current risks of a gap in weather satellite data: While NOAA has made several improvements to these programs’ gap mitigation and contingency plan procedures, with the risks of a gap in the near future, the agency needs fully comprehensive backup plans. We recently recommended that NOAA add more information to these plans in order to prepare for a potential gap.
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