U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has legislative jurisdiction over the National Weather Service (NWS), issued the following statement on the announcement that President Donald Trump has signed into law H.R. 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017. The bill, of which Thune was the lead Senate sponsor, 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.”
“I appreciate the efforts of President Trump and the bipartisan supporters of weather reform in both the House and Senate,” said Thune. “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.”
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 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.