It’s no secret that the weather forecasts on which we all rely, especially during times of severe weather, require a substantial amount of data to produce. This data is generated in large part with the support of US taxpayers through NOAA and its subsidiary agencies. To disseminate this taxpayer-funded data to people like me, NOAA has a complex system of computers. Unfortunately, budget constraints mean that this computer system is under some serious strain right now.
The good news is that fixing the current problem would require a mere (by federal budget standards) 1.5 million dollars of investment in upgraded network infrastructure. For context, this represents 0.0003% of NOAA’s budget and 0.0000003% of the total federal government’s budget.
Hopefully with a bit of constituent pressure, our representatives in Congress can figure out a way to make sure this money is available in the budget for FY21 to support lifesaving weather forecasts for years to come.
For those local to southern Maine, our representative Chellie Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee which means our voice has extra weight in a matter like this. A quick phone call, email, or letter, would go a long way towards fixing this issue. I have included a copy of the letter I sent Rep. Pingree below for anyone looking for a place to start.
Dear Representative Pingree,
I am writing today to make you aware of an issue that threatens the dissemination of critical weather information that enables meteorologists to keep the public informed of dangerous weather conditions. The data centers operated by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) do not have enough internet bandwidth to support the ecosystem of users and applications that turn raw weather data into information that can be of use to the public. Currently, the data centers are running without any backup capacity so when issues arise, the only solution is to shut off the data feeds with significant adverse effects on the ability of meteorologists to make potentially lifesaving forecasts and the ability of the public to access those forecasts produced by the National Weather Service. If no action is taken by Congress, access to this data (produced at taxpayer expense) will be further throttled. This would produce increased delays with detrimental impacts on the ability of critical weather information to reach the public and key decisionmakers.
Ahead of extreme weather events such as nor’easters, hurricanes, and tornadoes, hours and minutes count. These storms, increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change, cost billions of dollars in damage to the US each year. While some of this is unavoidable, adequate warning ahead of a storm can significantly mitigate both the economic and human impact of extreme weather events.
On a webinar hosted by NCEP leadership today (12/8/20), I learned that resolving these issues would require an investment of $1,500,000 in upgraded network infrastructure. This sum represents 0.0003% of NOAA’s total budget ($5.35 billion) which in turn represents a mere 0.001% of the total federal budget ($4.79 trillion). This incredibly modest investment in critical infrastructure would deliver extraordinary value for American taxpayers who depend on timely and accurate weather forecast information every day and is one of many critical steps we need to take as a country to mitigate the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis. Furthermore, I also learned that there has thus far been no congressional interest in this issue despite its importance.
As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, and more specifically the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, I believe you have some ability to address this issue. I would like to request that the upcoming federal budget for FY2021 include funds appropriated for this upgrade of some of the nation’s most critical infrastructure as extreme weather events fueled in part by climate change continue to impact both our state and our nation.
Please reach out if you have any questions or if I can be of any assistance in the resolution of this matter.
Meteorology Student and Forecaster