Large cuts to NOAA research, satellite operations will degrade weather forecasting and military preparedness

Donald’s proposed deep cuts to NOAA satellite operations will make weather forecasting less reliable and run counter to Donald’s goal of “rebuilding” the military.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

According to the Washington Post, Donald is considering deep cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of his proposed budget. The anonymous sources upon which the Post based their article cautioned that the exact details of which programs would get cut and by how much would likely change, but the relative magnitudes of the reported cuts provide some insight into Donald’s thinking:

Based on these numbers, we can surmise that Donald doesn’t want to impact weather forecasting (which is important to literally everyone), wants to maintain the fishing industry, but wants to cut most climate science and government-funded research out of NOAA. The problem is that it’s not going to work.

I’m an electrical engineer with over a decade working in aerospace, including instruments used for monitoring the weather, ocean temperatures, and agricultural productivity. I’m also someone who has been reporting on the science and politics of industrial climate disruption (aka global warming or anthropogenic climate change) for over a decade. And based on that experience, I can safely say that the massive cuts to the NOAA satellite program reportedly proposed will result in a larger than 5% hit to the National Weather Service.

NOAA satellites as of March, 2017 (image credit: NOAA NESDIS)

The problem is that the very same satellites that are responsible for monitoring climate are also responsible for monitoring the weather. In fact, it hasn’t been until the last five or ten years that satellites with the express purpose of monitoring changes in the climate have been designed and launched. The vast majority of the NOAA-operated satellites in orbit today are weather satellites, not climate satellites. So a 26% cut to satellite development and operations will mean that existing satellites are either taken off-line (which may involve intentionally dropping them out of orbit), old satellites don’t get replaced as quickly or at all, and new satellites with improved capabilities to monitor the weather won’t get designed, built, and launched.

According to the Post, the memo justifies these cuts by saying Donald wants to “prioritize rebuilding the military.” But while the Defense Department does launch its own weather satellites (there are natural differences in capabilities required for defense vs. commercial satellites), the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program relies on NOAA to operate the satellites on their behalf. And there are entire constellations of commercial weather satellites that NOAA (and NASA, which is expected to face steep cuts to its earth science budget) operate that provide the Pentagon with data they can use to plan operations, troop and fleet movements, and the like.

And there have been rumors that NASA’s earth-monitoring satellites could be transferred to NOAA, potentially without an associated transfer of NASA’s earth science budget.

Put simply, it’s very unlikely that such deep cuts to NOAA will help “rebuild” the military. The opposite is far more likely to be true, as I’m sure NOAA is, or will be, informing Donald’s administration.

It’s hardly a surprise that Donald doesn’t know how the various departments of the federal government are interconnected. But the cuts he’s calling for are misguided and shortsighted at best. Which, given Donald seems to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that he’s the smartest person in whatever room he’s occupying, is also hardly a surprise.