Latest budget casuality: your five-day forecast

    Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are warning of yet another causality of the budget crisis–your five-day forecast.

    NOAA has two kinds of weather satellites. The first are the kind that hover over a region in the U.S. and produce the short-term weather maps we see on the evening news. The second, orbiting satellites, collect data from all over the world and help predict weather conditions a few days or a week out.

    Due to slashed funding, NOAA said it will likely go without that orbiting satellite for at least 18 months starting in 2016.

    That means less lead time and less accuracy in predicting severe storms.  NOAA’s Ajay Mehta used the “snowmageddon” of the winter of 2010 as an example.

    “For the Washington area, we would have incorrectly predicted how much snow would have fell by 50 percent,” Mehta said. “So instead of predicting 20 to 21 inches of snow, we would have only predicted 10 inches of snow.”

    He said the implications have the agency worried.

    “Now airlines can’t make smart decisions about where to keep their planes,” Mehta said. “You don’t have emergency managers prepared for the snowfall, in fact you don’t have people prepared.”

    Officials are lobbying to avoid further budget cuts in fiscal year 2012 so the 18-month coverage gap does not stretch longer.

    Phillyweather.net editor Tom Thunstrom said the gap may make the Philadelphia area’s increasingly wacky weather harder to predict in the future.

    “You may have more sneak attack type storms, the ones that kind of sneak up on us as opposed to the ones that get hyped up three or four days out,” Thunstrom said.

    Thunstrom said weather here has been increasingly extreme. Last summer was the hottest on record, and according to Thunstrom, the past two winters have been only the second in history with back-to-back snowfalls of more than 40 inches.

    Wednesday, NOAA announced “The United States has so far this year experienced nine separate disasters, each with an economic loss of $1 billion or more—tying the record set in 2008.”

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