U.S. to Lose Weather Prediction Data
The U.S. is likely to lose important weather satellite coverage for a year or more around 2017, several expert reviews have found.
If such a satellite gap had happened this year, it would have made predictions for the path of major storms such as Sandy much more uncertain, the New York Times reported. The Times wrote about the expected coverage gap a few days before Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. According to one estimate, the storm may have caused more than $20 billion in damage, Bloomberg reported.
The problem is that certain weather and climate satellites, called polar satellites, are due to reach to the end of their life expectancies, or have already exceeded their expected lifetimes. At the same time, the polar satellites' next-generation replacement, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), won't be ready until 2017, according to JPSS' engineers. Experts predict a coverage gap to occur sometime between 2016 and 2018.
Polar satellites orbit between the north and south poles of the Earth, taking pictures of the entire planet. U.S. agencies depend on data from such satellites, along with other craft, to predict storms about five days ahead. Polar satellite data were crucial for predicting Sandy would blow over land, instead of turning off to sea, the New York Times reported.
Three independent reviews blamed the JPSS program, which cost $13 billion, for dysfunction and poor budgeting, the New York Times reported. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) run the program, which is two and four years behind schedule for its next two launches.
The JPSS program has been overhauled several times, but now it's undergoing one more restructuring, following orders from the Department of Commerce and NOAA officials. It also receives additional money from a bill that allows it to use funding originally meant for other NOAA programs.
NOAA launched a satellite in 2011 called Suomi to try to avoid a gap in coverage. Experts don't think it will work, however, as technical glitches mean Suomi only has an expected lifetime of three years.
Source: New York Times