April 19, 2017

Major Weather Bill Signed by the President Today

A major piece of legislation designed to improve U.S. weather and seasonal prediction was signed today by President Trump.

The bill, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, will support a wide range of improvements in U.S. weather prediction, enhance tsunami warning capabilities, and even take on the important task of dealing with weather radar gaps around the nation.

A refreshing aspect about the bill was its overwhelming bipartisan support, including passage by unanimous consent in the Senate.  Sponsors of the bill were from both sides of the aisle.  

What does this bill do?   

First, is calls on NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to conduct a program to improve forecasting of weather events and their effects, with a special focus on high impact weather events.

The National Weather Service must collect and utilize information to make reliable and timely forecasts of subseasonal and seasonal temperature and precipitation.  (Subseasonal forecasting is forecasting weather between two weeks and three months and seasonal forecasting is between three months and two years.)

The bill provides for technology transfers between the National Weather Service and private sector weather companies and universities to improve forecasting.

NOAA must complete and operationalize the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (a weather satellite program which uses global navigation systems to provide vertical soundings all over the world.)

It encourages NOAA to contract with the private sector to obtain data for weather forecasting.

And much more.

Our own Senator Cantwell played a major, positive role in this legislation. She added a section "To authorize and strengthen the tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration".  And she worked with Republican legislators to require an evaluation of the gaps in U.S. weather radar coverage.

Senator Maria Cantwell

The bill authorizes the spending of $170M on the improvements, but those funds still need to be appropriated.

Why ia this bill important?   Because US weather prediction is a shadow of what it could be.  Because we have too many modeling systems and a lack of coordination of effort.  The bill represents an effort by Congress to step in and tell government agencies they can (and should) do better.

Strange silence in the media

You would think that a presidential signing of such a positive bipartisan bill would get a lot of press coverage.   But as of 9 PM Wednesday, I could not find a single story on the bill in any major media outlet.  Why?  

One possibility is that for some reason the mainstream media has not noticed this signing.  

Another is that some folks are nervous that the funds for improving weather to seasonal prediction might result in less support for climate research.  My take is that if some in Congress are determined to reduce climate research, it is far better to use the money for weather/seasonal prediction than lose the money entirely.  Climate and weather/seasonal models are basically the same and improving short-term predictions can only help climate projections.  

There may be some reluctance among some to give President Trump and Republican legislators credit for their efforts on this bill, but I believe they deserve credit for making a very positive contribution to enhancing the nation's ability to predict the weather, skillfully project seasonal changes, and to warn about imminent tsunamis.  

The nation needs to come together to deal with our failing infrastructure and needs of our citizens.   This bill is an example of the kind of positive things we can accomplish if we work together.  


How will Northwest Weather Change Under Global Warming?  Help Us Determine the Local Impacts of Climate Change

Society needs to know the regional impacts of climate change and several of us at the UW are trying to provide this information with state-of-the-art high resolution climate modeling.  With Federal funding unavailable, we are experimenting with a community funding to build this effort.  If you want more information or are interested in helping, please go here.  The full link is: https://uw.useed.net/projects/822/home    All contributions to the UW are tax deductible.


  1. I would agree with what you say here if the money was appropriated, so far it 's just a feel good legislation. I hate to be so cynical but until we see the money I will withhold my praise. I hope I'm wrong

  2. Great news Cliff! Really hoping this pans out. There is NO reason the USA cannot be the world leader in modeling and forecasting. Now, can someone please pass legislation to get change this cool, wet Spring pattern to warmer and drier?? It's really getting old. My yard is still very wet and I want to start planting! ;)

  3. I hate to say it, but until funds appear this bill seems to be another case of "do more with no additional budget".

    The potential for improvement is there though, and I hope it happens.

  4. The fact that expenditure items, such as fill-in radar, are included in bill holds out hope for a budgetary appropriation. Speaking of fill-in, I would hope the powers that be take a look at Eastern Washington with the big gap in coverage between the Pendleton and Spokane WSR's located right over the state's prime agriculture area.

  5. Most republicans only agree with science that benefits them directly/financially and in the short term. Weather forcasts seem to meet that criteria. If they thought seasonal climate models could be used as a starting point for long term warming predictions they would never have been on board.

  6. Not only is it bad for the lack of appropriations - but it's requiring an almost complete rewrite of the watch/warning system that's been in place for 50+ years within the next two years. Ouch.

  7. You make good points about the March for Science not changing any minds with the current administration and Congress.

    However, I believe one goal of the march is to put a focus on science and demonstrate the strong support science has in our society. I think it will do more to raise public consciousness than to change any policy. As with other marches (e.g., Dr. Martin Luther King's march on Washington, Women's March earlier this year, etc), it is the public that needs to be convinced, not the politicians.

    It also has the benefit of empowering people who believe in the science to go out in the community to do the activities you mention at the end of your blog.


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

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