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Subcommittees Discuss Remediation and Avoidance of Crucial Weather Forecasting Gaps

Status Report From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013

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(Washington, DC) - Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology's Subcommittee on Oversight and Subcommittee on Environment held a joint hearing to conduct on-going oversight of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather and climate satellite programs.

The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellite (GOES) are being developed to provide necessary relief for the nation's aging weather satellite network. These polar and geostationary satellites are the backbone of the U.S. weather forecasting enterprise, and it is essential that older satellites be replaced before they fail. The failure to do so would result in unacceptably dangerous gaps in the nation's weather forecasting and put at risk Americans who rely on accurate reports for protection from severe weather events. Members discussed remediation strategies for the unavoidable gap in polar coverage and the importance of preventing gaps in the nation's geostationary satellites.

Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Environment Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) remarked in her opening statement, "This is an issue that has been ongoing for years. My hope today is that we can set aside partisanship and find solutions to what really is a slow-moving, national tragedy. We should emerge from this hearing with a bipartisan commitment to work together and help ensure that NOAA is doing all that it can and should to manage these programs and plan for gaps. I also hope we can work together to support NOAA in getting the resources they need to continue to protect the American public."

In response to questions regarding efforts being taken by NOAA to reduce gaps in coverage, Ms. Mary Kicza, Assistant Administrator of the Satellite and Information Services at NOAA replied, "Refocusing the JPSS to a weather focused mission improves our confidence in meeting [our] launch dates. Close management of the Suomi NPP (Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite) operations will allow us to preserve that mission for as long as possible. We now have two years of successful operations of Suomi on orbit [and] both of these areas, increased development schedule confidence [of our launches] and Suomi on orbit operation success, gives us confidence that if Suomi NPP continues to perform as expected, then we can significantly reduce our projected risk of a gap in orbit."

Regarding work conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) addressing the critical nature of potential gaps in weather satellite data, Mr. David Powner, Director of Information technology management Issues at GAO remarked, "We and others, including an independent review team reporting to the Department of Commerce and the department's Inspector General, have raised concerns that problems and delays on environmental satellite acquisition programs will result in gaps in the continuity of critical satellite data used in weather forecasts and warnings. According to officials at NOAA, a polar satellite data gap would result in less accurate and timely weather forecasts and warnings of extreme events, such as hurricanes, storm surges and floods. Such degradation in forecasts and warnings would place lives, property, and our nation's critical infrastructures in danger."

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