(Washington, DC)  Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) has asked the Administrators of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for answers regarding a research satellite which now has a second job helping hurricane forecasters sharpen their predictions about the paths these massive storms will follow.

The QuikSCAT satellite, which tracks wind data at the ocean surface, is a NASA research mission which is producing data that NOAA finds valuable for improving predictions on the movement of hurricanes and the point of landfall.  The Director of the Hurricane Center recently stated that loss of this data, should QuikSCAT fail without a replacement mechanism in place, will reduce the accuracy of their two-day predictions by 10 percent and 16 percent for three-day forecasts.

QuikSCAT is currently two years beyond its five-year design lifetime and there is no near-term plan to replace the satellite’s severe weather prediction capabilities.

A reduction in the accuracy of such forecasts could “require the National Hurricane Center to expand the coastal areas receiving hurricanes watches and warnings and increase the number of persons affected by evacuation orders,” wrote Chairman Lampson. 

Chairman Lampson has asked to see NOAA’s contingency planning to deal with possible shutdown of QuikSCAT satellite – particularly if the satellite fails during hurricane season.

When evacuations are ordered in an effort to save lives, they should be done with the best available data, continued Lampson.  “We can only accomplish that with accurate forecasting.  Please provide us with information about the short-term options for continuing to obtain the information provided by the QuikSCAT satellite should the loss of this satellite occur during hurricane season,” added Lampson in his letter to the Administrators.

Lampson wrote President Bush in 2004 about a similar situation regarding the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM).  NASA intended to decommission that mission, as it had met all of their goals.  But, it was discovered that NOAA had been using the TRMM data, again to improve hurricane forecasts thus steps were taken to keep TRMM operational. 

The Science and Technology Committee then directed NOAA and NASA to establish an interagency group to improve the process for making NASA research satellite data available for NOAA operations.  That group is supposed to report annually; but Congress has yet to receive a report for this year, as is also noted and requested in Chairman Lampson’s letter.

For a copy of Chairman Lampson’s letter to NOAA Administrator Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, click here.

For a copy of Chairman Lampson’s letter to NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin, click here.