SILVER SPRING, Md. - We have seen some wet weather this week, but nothing compared to what we would see if Hurricane Joaquin were to turn our way. We are able to track the storm closely with satellites, which has become the backbone of weather predictions.
But that accuracy may deteriorate in years to come without some critical funding.
People from the Carolinas to New England have been nervously watching to find out where Hurricane Joaquin will track. An area of low pressure over the southeastern United States and an area of high pressure over the Atlantic will play a big role.
“Depending on exactly where that weakness is between those two pressure systems, that’s where Joaquin will track and that’s what we’re trying to hone in on,” said Chris Vaccaro, director of public affairs for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service.
So where does this information come from? In large part, images and data we get from equipment in space.
NOAA has requested funding through the White House for a cluster of satellites that would continue to bring us this crucial data decades from now. But so far, the funding has been blocked by Congress.
“It was primarily -- I don't have the money that you're asking for, but I do appreciate the essential nature of the measurements you're taking,” said Dr. Stephen Volz, assistant administrator for satellite and information at NOAA.
He said the polar orbiting satellites in place now are financially secure, but $380 million is needed to start building replacements now. They would be delivered in 2023 when the current equipment begins to fizzle out.
“The longer that gap occurs in starting, the greater the risk that the satellites won't be ready when we need them in the early 20s,” Dr. Volz said.
So what would happen without these tools? Forecasters were able to predict weather events such as Hurricane Sandy and so-called “Snowmageddon” snowstorm back in 2010 much more accurately.
Without the satellites, just 7 to 10 inches of snow would have been predicted for the Mid-Atlantic region. Instead, 15 to 18 inches were forecasted and we were prepared for what was indeed a paralyzing event.
“The water we're getting today right now is not the hurricane,” said Volz. “It’s just another weather pattern. If I didn't know what was happening in this weather pattern, I wouldn’t be able to predict what’s going to happen with Joaquin.
“So not having the satellite data gets us back to sort of calling our friends -- What's happening in Florida? Is it coming our way or not -- as opposed to having the model, which is based on data and on analysis.”
While the House failed to approve the $380 million in June, the hope is the need for this funding will be addressed in the near future.
The entire federal government is operating on a temporary budget, which keeps it funded until at least December 11.