Rockefeller Says Japan Tsunami Is a Reminder That Gutting Essential NOAA Prediction Programs Would Be Disastrous

March 11, 2011

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C.—Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV today expressed his sorrow and condolences to the people affected by the horrific tsunami in Japan and pressed for continued investments in America’s premier weather prediction and ocean science agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

“My heartfelt condolences go out to the families affected by this horrible tragedy. As the enormity of destruction and its long-term impact on the millions of people in Japan becomes known, America’s resolve to help its allies must be unwavering. The men, women and children of Japan deserve the assurance that we will shoulder this terrible burden together, and that we will continue to assist with recovery.

“As Japan faces this time of crisis, it is critical to note that this a global issue. The tsunami has passed through Hawaii and is currently affecting America’s west coast. Earthquakes and all weather events happen anywhere, anytime putting everyone at risk. Congress must heed this cruel wakeup call and stop proposed cuts to essential NOAA prediction programs that would endanger lives. We must push to make the smart investments in our greatest minds and resources at NOAA so that we can better predict severe weather events and be prepared for the worst.”


Americans rely on weather forecasts and warnings that save lives and help protect property. As the federal agency responsible for the observation and prediction of weather, earth systems, and ocean phenomena, NOAA also supplies the nation with crucial earthquake and tsunami prediction and response capabilities. Through NOAA, the United States has made a significant investment in tsunami detection and warning systems since the last catastrophic tsunami occurred in the South Pacific in 2004. The Tsunami Warning and Education Act passed by Congress in 2006 directed improvements in the nation’s warning and mitigation efforts. Yet recently, significant cuts to NOAA’s core weather and prediction services have been proposed as Congress debates the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget. 

NOAA’s predictions allow for informed decisions to be made by local governments in preparing for potential disasters. Four NOAA agencies contribute to the U.S. Tsunami Program: National Weather Service, NOAA Research, NOAA Ocean Service and NOAA Satellites and Information Service. NOAA currently manages an expanded network of tide and seismic stations, and 39 buoys positioned throughout the world’s oceans to detect tsunamis. If staff members at NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers detect a tsunami threat, they broadcast alerts over an advanced telecommunications infrastructure. Other components of the nation’s upgraded tsunami warning system include NOAA’s two 24/7 Tsunami Warning Centers in Alaska and Hawaii, a network of advanced forecast models for at-risk communities, and TsunamiReady™ — a public preparedness and education program. 

The NOAA Ocean Service additionally operates an extensive network of tide gauges used by the warning centers to determine if a tsunami has been generated, and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory within the ocean Service operates six tsunami buoys located off the Aleutian Islands, the Washington/Oregon coast and South America, that send warning signals if they sense a change in sea level. NOAA’s National Weather Service has two tsunami warning centers, the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning center ( and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (, that compile information from tide gauges, buoys, and other sources to provide accurate predictions of tsunami timing and impacts.

The National Geophysical Data Center within NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service assimilates tsunami, earthquake, and volcano data to support research, planning, response, and mitigation. Just yesterday, the Commerce Committee heard testimony from Dr. Kathryn Sullivan who has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Observation and Prediction at NOAA. At the nominations hearing, Chairman Rockefeller reiterated the importance of essential NOAA services. Additional resources from the hearing can be found here.