Call for Public Comment on Potential Gap in NOAA's Polar Satellite Coverage

21 November 2012
AGU Science Policy Alert 12-48

With the Mid-Atlantic still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the importance of accurate, timely forecasts to predict extreme weather events is clear.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s polar satellites play a key role in providing the data essential to these predictions that save American lives and property every year.

By circling the globe more closely and covering swaths of the planet that geostationary satellites miss, NOAA’s polar satellites provide the public with advance warning for hurricanes, tornadoes, snow storms, and flooding events.  Without these data, Washington, D.C.’s “Snowmageddon” event in 2010, for example, would have been under-forecast by ten inches, leaving emergency responders with little time to prepare for the paralyzing storm.

Polar satellite data also allow experts to respond to droughts and forest fires more effectively, predict where volcanic ash clouds will affect air travel, and provide the military with critical weather and climate information for carrying out missions abroad.

These essential satellites, however, are likely to experience a gap in coverage before the end of the decade.  An Independent Review Team Report on the challenges facing the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) predicts that this gap in coverage will likely last for at least 18 months and could extend for more than five years.

NOAA is taking action to mitigate the harmful effects of this possible future loss of polar satellite coverage, including commissioning an investigative study to explore all available risk management options.  Today, it issued a JPSS Polar Satellite Gap Mitigation Request for Public Comment asking citizens to provide suggestions and innovative ideas for how to respond to the challenge.

AGU strongly encourages its members to contribute with original comments, suggestions, and review of alternative proposals.  Make your voice heard today to promote public safety and reduce the potential economic damage from the coming storms.