In The News

Senate passes comprehensive bipartisan bill to improve weather forecasting

By Jason Samenow

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Washington, March 30, 2017 | comments

After stumbling blocks and delays, sweeping bipartisan legislation to improve weather forecasting has passed the Senate.

The 65-page bill, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, H.R. 353, contains four sections that support research and programs to improve weather forecasting and its communication on short and long time scales.

Containing scores of provisions, the bill would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to, for example:

  • Establish a program to improve tornado warnings.
  • Protect the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program, whose funding was previously slashed.
  • Develop a formal plan for weather research.
  • Develop an annual report on the state of its weather models.
  • Develop forecasts on the subseasonal (two weeks to three months), seasonal (three months to one year) and interannual (up to two years) time scales.
  • Consider options to buy commercially provided weather satellite data rather than launch expensive government satellites.
  • Improve its watch-and-warning system based on recommendations from social and behavioral scientists.

The bill authorizes funding for these initiatives, totaling more than $170 million, but does not necessarily signal new or increased funding for NOAA. Rather it offers guidance on what programs should receive specific funding amounts given the existing budget negotiated by the president and Congress.

The bill is a revised version of a similar bill that passed the Senate in early December. But the earlier bill, years in the making, died in the House before the new year.

At issue was an amendment by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) that mandated a contentious study on water resources that had potential implications for a decades-long dispute between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

The bill will be sent to the House for consideration.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a co-sponsor of the legislation on the House side, said he is confident that with the additions and improvements to the bill, it should have no trouble getting to the president’s desk.


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