October 01, 2013

Budget Cutbacks and Buoys

With all the talk of government shutdowns, sequestration, and other budgetary problems on the Federal level, it is time to talk about one of the major impacts:  the loss of many of the U.S. weather/ocean buoys.  Buoys that are critical for the protection of life and property.

The U.S. has enjoyed an extensive deployment of ocean buoys that provide highly valuable weather, wave, and ocean data for critical prediction and warning functions.

This is NOT happening.

The data from these buoys are used initialize our numerical forecast models of the atmosphere and ocean, and they serve as verification points to see how well our models are doing.

The problem:  because of budget cutbacks and NOAA management decisions, many of the U.S. buoys are broken today, with little hope of fixing them before the critical winter storm season begins.

Go to the U.S. weather buoy website and click on many of the buoys and you will get this message:

Let's check out the problem.  Here are the buoys off the U.S. Northwest coast.  The buoys in red boxes are key weather buoys that are dead.  The red stars are tsunami buoys that don't give weather data.  During the windstorm a few days ago, the GFS and NAM models (the main U.S. models) were in disagreement.  We really needed a functional buoy 46005 to tell us which solution was correct.  We did NOT have this crucial information.  The result: substantial confusion and uncertainty in the forecast.

What about the dangerous Alaska waters?  The ones where fishermen die each year during big storms?  Three important buoys are dead in the Bering Sea and another few   in the Gulf of Alaska.

Off the northeast U.S.?  FOUR major buoys are dead, lessening our ability to warn folks if another Sandy-like storm approaches from off the ocean.

And major buoys are dead on all sides of Florida.

Here is a more general view, again the red are the dead moored buoys.

It is not inexpensive to maintain these buoys, since you need to send a ship out there to do the maintenance.    But don't you think a nation that spends hundreds of billions on defense each year could spend a few million to ensure that these critical sentries of offshore conditions are maintained properly?

Another example of lack of attention to important environmental and other infrastructure needs.

And infrastructure that plays an essential role in protecting lives and property in our country.  NOAA management needs to rethink their priorities to insure the U.S. buoy system is repaired and operational.  And Congress needs to ensure there is sufficient funding to do so.

And for those of you wondering, the current government shutdown is very much hurting the work of the atmospheric science community.   Essential supercomputers are not available, critical data sets can not be acquired, and important meetings (like the Northwest modeling consortium that supervises the high resolution weather prediction at the UW) are being cancelled.

It is all very sad and so unnecessary.  We can do better than this.


  1. Thanks so much for this clear, data-driven example of the practical impact of failing to fund important infrastructure. I would have never thought of or considered this particular instance without you!

  2. There are plenty of wasteful government programs that should be slashed to fund more important functions like these buoys.

    The free cell phone program comes to mind.

  3. I went to send this to Huffington Post to see if they would feature it, but I couldn't find anything on your blog that says who you are, Cliff, and why you are an authority on this topic. You might want to add a bit of this info right on the main page.

  4. Cliff...couldn't agree more. We need these buoys for critical infrastructure and safety. I'm a federal GS-11 employee who works in Silverdale for the government and I am sitting at home today. Day #2. This is all non-sense. House Republicans need to wake-up. I know Senator Cantwell will take this on.

  5. Can private individuals or companies opt to maintain the buoys for NOAA?

  6. I was indeed taken aback when I went to fetch ZFPSEW from noaa.gov and found it missing. It looks like UW Atmos has it, which is good, but I can't imagine how our forecasts are going to be useful without reasonable and thorough data that's been discussed and handed down through the teams.

    Perhaps when the rest of the country starts getting forecasts with an uncertainty level matching 1st & Pine in Seattle --- "partial clouds, light dripping possible, may see a sun break" and other amusing lines --- they too will more aggressively to stop paying the crowd that failed to reach even a provisional agreement or are otherwise not taking responsibility for their inaction.

  7. Christopher, I am certain someone would maintain those buoys as our Coast Guard and NOAA do, if we pay them more than it costs us to do it collectively, as a nation. Thus, no savings, minimal oversight, redundancy of service.
    There are some things we, the people NEED to do together for the benefit of WE, THE PEOPLE. I don't want my gov't to make my clothes or my teevee, but I do expect us to fund critical functions such as this.
    And JeffB, maybe a bigger source of revenue would be to stop providing the fossil-fuels corporations with free overseas security services via our military.
    The B.S. "free cell phone" talking point reveals a lot....

  8. We're going to need to figure out how to pay for things that the middle class with their tax rate used to pay for, before their income was moved and concentrated on a smaller percentage of people paying lower effective tax rates.

    Jeff Bezos et al, you listening? Philanthropy card won't cut it, either; that's a fraction of the lost revenue necessary to pay for such things as buoys. Also of course yet another tax break.

  9. On a related note:

    "In an official public forecast discussion, the Anchorage National Weather Service office – whose employees are working without knowledge of when they will be paid during the ongoing Federal shutdown - encoded this secret message: “Please pay us.”"

    More here:


    A hearty thank-you to NWS employees putting up with this BS.

    Some people really need to deal with the basic concepts of governance, such as what happens when legislation is passed, signed by the Prez, scrutinized and approved by SCOTUS. Enough, already.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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