Weather Research, Forecasting Legislation Becomes Law
Leaders on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which exercise legislative jurisdiction in their respective chambers over the National Weather Service, today, issued the following statements on the announcement last night, Tuesday, April 18, 2017, that President Donald Trump has signed into law H.R. 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017.
The bill includes sweeping reforms to federal forecasting to improve seasonal forecasting, monitoring and clearly communicating information about extreme weather events, the availability of aircraft systems for hurricane tracking and the use of commercial data that have been collectively called “the first major piece of weather legislation adopted since the early 1990s.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) is the lead Democratic sponsor of the Senate companion bill.
“Hawai‘i faces unique vulnerabilities from tsunami, hurricanes, and coastal flooding,” said Sen. Schatz. “The bill signed into law will strengthen our ability to forecast all of these so that we can be better prepared for the threats we might face. At a basic level, this means safety—but as important, it means that businesses can plan better so fewer jobs are lost, and people will be able to maintain their livelihoods. The better forecasts this law supports will benefit everyone, and shows how it is still possible for the Congress and the president to come together to stand up for American communities.”
“I appreciate the efforts of President Trump and the bipartisan supporters of weather reform in both the House and Senate,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Commerce Committee and sponsor of the Senate companion bill. “These sweeping reforms will make needed changes in weather forecasting to reflect and build upon advancements in satellite technology, how we use the internet to communicate, and scientific advancements that can help better predict coming changes in heat and moisture from season to season. The results of this legislation will be better warning about extreme weather events and changes to long-term forecasting that give farmers better information about what and when to plant and local transportation departments more time to prepare for unusually harsh winters.”
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“As we learned during Hurricane Hermine last year, if NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter jet is out of commission, there’s no backup plan in place,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member of the Commerce Committee. “This bill will ensure we have a reliable backup that enables scientists to continue gathering critical data about where a storm is headed and whether it’s strengthening or weakening.”
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“The president signing the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act marks a significant shift toward the improvement of our country’s ability to forecast major storms and tornadoes,” said House Science Committee Vice Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the sponsor of H.R. 353. “This legislation packs in multiple efforts to protect lives and property from severe weather because Americans deserve nothing less than the most accurate and timely weather predictions. By encouraging new technologies both outside and inside of NOAA, we can put our country back on track to be a world leader in weather forecasting. I thank my colleagues in Congress and the president for taking action to implement these lifesaving policies.”
“President Trump’s signature on the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act marks a major advance toward transforming our nation’s public-private weather enterprise,” said House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). “This crucial legislation will facilitate new weather research, models, and technologies to greatly increase public safety in the United States. By providing NOAA with a clear vision and new authority, this bill allows the agency the flexibility to buy new, affordable, and potentially better sources of data. With more and better options, including commercial, we can now make the improvements we need to our weather forecasting capabilities. I appreciate my colleagues’ support and dedication, especially the many years of hands-on leadership by Reps. Lucas and Bridenstine, to getting this bill across the finish line.”
“This legislation prioritizes improving weather forecasts and opens opportunities for new and innovative sources of weather information,” said Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.). “I congratulate President Trump for moving us closer to a day when we have zero deaths from tornadoes and severe weather events.”
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“Preparing in advance for tsunami can save lives and property in coastal communities across the United States,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.). “For residents of the Pacific Northwest, the question isn’t ‘if’ a tsunami will hit our coast; it’s a question of ‘when’ it will happen. This law will help protect coastal communities by improving our understanding of the threat posed by tsunami events, strengthening forecasting, and improving communication with and notification to residents. As a leader on the Science Committee’s Environment Subcommittee, I will work tirelessly with all of my colleagues to make sure these critical programs receive the full funding needed to provide the best protection possible for the millions of people who live in and visit our coastal communities.”
The Senate approved H.R. 353 with amendments on March 29, 2017, and the House of Representatives cleared the amended bill for White House consideration on April 4. Click here for the full final text of H.R. 353.
Summary of H.R. 353:
Seasonal forecasting: Directs the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its component agency the National Weather Service (NWS) to create usable, reliable, and timely subseasonal and seasonal forecasts, and determine the impact of these forecasts. Through an authorization of $26.5 million out of funds appropriated to NWS through fiscal year 2018, the legislation lays the groundwork for significant improvements in usable and reliable forecasts for time periods of 2 weeks to 2 years. This improvement in forecasting would, for example, allow farmers to make more informed decisions about when and what to plant.
Forecast communication: Requires the NWS to designate at least one employee in each of the established 122 weather forecast offices as the warning coordination meteorologist. Even when forecasters accurately predict dangerous weather events, preventable deaths, injuries, and property losses occur due to shortcomings in communications about what is happening and what at-risk populations should do. Warning coordination meteorologists will focus on the regional area covered by the weather forecast office and work with local officials, media, and other channels to maximize the usefulness and effectiveness of emergency communications.
Tornado and hurricane forecasting: Focuses on forecasting improvements and new research into extreme weather events. Establishes a tornado warning improvement and extension program for federal cooperation with private sector and academic partners to focus on developing and extending accurate tornado forecasts and warnings beyond one hour. It also creates a similar collaboration program for improving hurricane forecasting and communication of storm surges.
Tsunami warning: Authorizes NOAA to put tsunami sensors onto commercial and federal telecommunications cables as a cost-effective improvement to the tsunami detection network and research efforts regarding tsunamis. Also authorizes grant funding to survey for “paleotsunamis”—evidence of devastating waves in prehistoric times, or periods before records were kept. By understanding past threats, communities can prepare better for future disasters.
Satellite governance: Reforms NOAA’s satellite procurement efforts by requiring consideration of existing systems and the overall cost of integrating new ones. The reform comes after the agency experienced costly difficulties in integrating new equipment with current ground and space systems. The bill further requires NOAA to enter into a pilot program contract to assess the private sector’s capabilities in providing weather data.
Contracting disclosures: Addresses concerns about some agency employees abusing the contracting process to enrich themselves with lucrative post-retirement contracts. The bill requires NOAA to annually disclose information about full-time equivalent contractors and those who formerly worked at the agency as federal employees.
“Hurricane Hunter” backup: Requires NOAA to establish a backup for the capabilities of its “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft systems. NOAA operates two WP-3D Orion turboprop aircraft that fly through hurricanes and penetrate the eyewall of storms. These aircraft deploy instrumentation that transmits measurements of pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind speed while also scanning the storm with the aircraft’s tail Doppler radar. NOAA also operates one G-IV jet that flies above and around the storm gathering high-altitude data with deployable instrumentation and tail Doppler radar.
Radar study: Requires NOAA to identify areas where there are gaps in radar coverage and provide recommendations on the supplemental observations necessary to improve public safety.