U.S. faces gap in weather satellite data

Oct. 26, 2012 at 6:24 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The United States is facing a gap in crucial satellite coverage that provides invaluable data for predicting storm tracks, officials warned.

A number of recent official investigations have pointed to years of program mismanagement, lack of funding and delays in putting replacements in orbit that will leave the Unites States without sufficient satellites and make forecasts of storms like Hurricane Sandy, expected to hit the U.S. Northeast next week, less accurate, The New York Times reported.

Research has shown that if satellite data had not been available forecasters would have underestimated by half the massive snowfall that hit Washington in the 2010 blizzard nicknamed "Snowmageddon."

Existing polar satellites that scan the entire planet one strip at a time as they orbit are reaching the end of their life expectancies, and the next replacement, dubbed the Joint Polar Satellite System or JPSS-1, is not expected to launch until early 2017.

That could create a gap in satellite coverage available to forecasters of at least a year, officials said.

"There is no more critical strategic issue for our weather satellite programs than the risk of gaps in satellite coverage," Jane Lubchenco, the undersecretary of commerce responsible for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a memorandum ordering a restructuring of the JPSS-1 program.

She called the program "this dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems."

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