The hearing will assess whether current weather and climate data and programs at NOAA are adequately meeting the growing needs of decision-makers, the private sector, and the public as well as address how these programs must continue to innovate to meet demands.
Please note the hearing will also be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website. Refresh the Commerce Committee homepage 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to view the webcast.
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Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IVU.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today we will be examining the many important weather programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). From the streams of data provided by environmental satellites, to the severe weather alerts of the National Weather Service, the products, services, and warnings that NOAA provides benefit all Americans. Every day, decisions are made based on NOAA weather information, whether it helps one decide to carry an umbrella, or to seek life-saving shelter during a storm.
This year has unfortunately shattered almost every weather record imaginable in the United States. Record-breaking snowfall, cold temperatures, extended drought, high heat, severe flooding, violent tornadoes, massive hurricanes—all of these events have amounted to the greatest number of multi-billion dollar weather disasters in our nation’s history. For each of these record-setting events, human lives were lost, and entire communities and livelihoods were torn asunder. Thinking of the many Americans harmed, I believe the public’s need for timely and accurate weather forecasts and emergency warnings could not be more critical.
Though the hardships of many are devastating, the death and destruction could have been far worse had it not been for the guidance and expertise of NOAA scientists, meteorologists, and climatologists. NOAA forecasts and warnings provided crucial lead times that protected property and saved lives. In my own state of West Virginia, innovations in forecasting have provided greater notice of flash flood events, allowing people to better protect their property and evacuate safely when needed. In times of emergency, minutes can save lives.
It’s clear that NOAA atmospheric services are invaluable to all Americans, yet this year in a terrible demonstration of irony the agency’s important functions have again been taken for granted. House Republicans have repeatedly sought to slash NOAA’s budget and prohibit the agency from conducting basic research and weather observational science. As a result of continued underfunding and programmatic delay in NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS, the nation faces the likely loss of essential weather forecasting capability in the coming years, because our current weather satellite capabilities will degrade before JPSS is launched and becomes operational. Such a gap would take our forecasting capabilities back decades, detrimentally hindering the ability to warn the public about severe weather events. This penny wise, pound foolish approach threatens to leave millions of Americans, communities, and first responders without the life-saving forecasting information we all expect and depend on to make timely decisions that ultimately save lives. This is a risk we cannot afford. I believe we must work now to mitigate the impacts of such a later gap in the most responsible and cost-effective way possible.
I have also supported NOAA’s good governance proposal to better align the agency’s atmospheric science and services. This would continue NOAA’s mission of providing reliable and accurate scientific information and support services to a public looking for answers. This is why we’re here today. We must assess if current NOAA weather services are meeting our growing needs. Where they are not, we need to find ways to fill those gaps and push for innovation. And we need to have a better grasp of the necessities of the future. This is not an easy task, but I’m confident that our two panels of witnesses can help us make a big step forward. I’m grateful to each witness for sharing your testimony and expertise with the Committee.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Mary M. GlackinDeputy Under Secretary for OperationsNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The Honorable Todd J. ZinserInspector GeneralU.S. Department of Commerce
Mr. David C. TrimbleDirector, Natural Resources and EnvironmentGovernment Accountability Office
Rear Admiral Cari B. ThomasDirector of Response PolicyU.S. Coast Guard
Witness Panel 2
Mr. Tom IsemanProgram Director, Water Policy and Implementation, Climate AdaptationWestern Governors' Association
Dr. Peter P. NeilleyVice President, Global Forecasting ServicesThe Weather Channel Companies
Mr. Robert MarshallPresident and CEOEarth Networks