NOAA satellite failure 'would be felt all around the world'

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The federal government is scrambling to figure out a fix for several weather satellites that may soon stop working. The consequences could be the difference between life and death here in south Louisiana come hurricane season and beyond.

Forecasters use weather satellites to help predict where a storm might end up, everything from hurricanes to snow storms to every day weather.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office says the system is in big trouble.

Nan Walker is a professor and director of the Earth Scan lab over at the LSU School of the Coast and Environment and says this is a problem that could affect many things.

"So many people around the world use satellites to study so many things," said Walker.

"It's just hard to even imagine who all will be affected."

Some of the satellites are expected stop working as soon as next year and the replacements aren't scheduled to be in place until 2017.

The report says the system could be less than fully-operational for at least 17 months.

"The impact would be evident the first big storm system that came rolling through," said WAFB-TV chief meteorologist Jay Grymes.

Grymes uses the satellites almost every day to give people a better picture of where a storm might go and give people time to get out of its way.

"There's a lot more to it than just pictures you see during the weather cast," Grymes said.

"Take that away and we step back not years but decades in terms of reduction in our forecasting skill."

Nan Walker says the problems would be felt all around the world.

"The satellites are really the eyes to all of us to what's going on in the atmosphere and the oceans on the planet," Walker said.

"So really it will be like turning the lights out."

In the case of superstorm Sandy, forecasters relied on the satellite's information and helped save lives. Without the full complement of satellites experts say the prediction of the path for superstorm Sandy would have shown it going out to sea and not hitting New Jersey at all.

The government report blames the problem on more than a decade of chronic program mismanagement and cost overruns.

The report specifically blames the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which helps operate the satellites with other government agencies.

"We depend on satellites and data not just for the hurricanes and severe weather but for day to day weather," Grymes added.

"Take way the information that the satellites include and ingest into our long range picture, we not only get tomorrow wrong but our forecast for three and five days out, almost become impossible."

NOAA released a statement saying that the Administration is committed to providing the American public with life and property-saving forecasts and warnings and that NOAA continues to develop mitigation plans for any potential gap.

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