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Budget Cuts for Hurricane-Tracking Agencies Cause Concerns

During hurricanes, people depend on charts and predictions from the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service. (NOAA/NWS)
During hurricanes, people depend on charts and predictions from the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service. (NOAA/NWS)
September 11, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- President Trump's proposed budget would cut nearly $1 billion from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That could hobble hurricane tracking and prediction.

The administration wants to cut NOAA funding by more than one-sixth, which would hit the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

Former NOAA chief of staff Renee Stone is now chief of staff with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She said those agencies' predictions save countless lives - particularly as compared with the numbers who died in storms before such predictions were available; such as the one that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900.

"The hurricane that hit Galveston, no one knew that was coming and thousands of people died,” Stone said. "In Harvey, it was still a disaster, but they were able to make a lot of decisions that helped keep a lot of people safe."

Budgets passed by the House and Senate include smaller cuts to NOAA. Stone said the Trump budget reductions seem tied to the agency's research into climate change.

Before coming to office, Trump described climate change as a hoax designed to weaken the U.S. economy. His position seems to have shifted some. Stone said even if you set the climate issue aside, it makes sense to invest in the complicated and expensive job of predicting where hurricanes are going.

"No matter what you believe about climate change, we've experienced a huge number of disasters in the last several years,” she observed. "Wouldn’t it be nice if we knew seven days out or ten days out what the hurricane would do with greater accuracy?"

NOAA does not have a permanent director currently. The job is being filled by a deputy.

Stone said right now the agency is "all hands on deck" - totally devoted to the job of tracking the current storms. But Mike Tidwell, director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said the budget moves are worrying for people on Virginia's vulnerable coast.

"President Trump is actively gutting the very agencies coastal communities and others depend on to keep them safe,” Tidwell said.

Local officials in Texas and Florida cite higher sea levels and warmer ocean waters as contributing to damage from storms.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA