Trump signs weather forecasting bill into law

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By Charles Roop
April 20, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - President Trump signed into law a bill to help weather forecasting.

Trump signed the bill (H.R. 353) into law on Tuesday after the U.S. House approved the Senate amendments to the bill on April 4. The legislation was sent to the President's desk two days later.

The law aims to many things, including to improve weather research and forecasting, examine Doppler radar coverage issues, and maintain the hurricane forecast improvement program.

By Charles Roop
March 31, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The U.S. Senate passed a bill to help improve weather forecasting on Wednesday. The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 unanimously passed the chamber.

The nearly 100-page document (PDF Format) lists out many provisions.

A few of the goals include improvement in weather forecasting by “Improving the fundamental understanding of weather […] including the boundary layer and other processes affecting high impact weather events”, along with research and development.

The bill also addresses a need to find ways to repair the Doppler radar coverage gaps in the U.S. There are places in the US where radar coverage of the lowest layers of the atmosphere are lacking, leaving the possibility of missing, for instance, rotation in the lower levels, according to a paper published in 2002 by Maddox et. al (PDF Format). Based on their research of the lowest 1 kilometer scans from nearby weather radars, there are some coverage gaps in places like South Georgia.

The bill also encourages a plan to purchase commercial weather data, which would enhance public-private partnerships.

“The strategy shall include the expected cost-effectiveness of these opportunities as well as provide a plan for procuring data, including an expected implementation timeline, from these non-governmental sources, as appropriate,” the bill notes.

There are also provisions to improve seasonal forecasting, which include the development of “an Internet clearinghouse to provide the forecasts […] on both national and regional levels.” The bill adds the development of seasonal (three months to two years) and subseasonal (two weeks to three months), and how they impact "the number and severity" events such as droughts, fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

The bill also asks to “acquire backup capabilities” for hurricane hunter aircraft “that is sufficient to prevent a single point of failure”.

The legislation also requests an assessment of the watch and warning system, including ways to communicate hazards risks, and to do so quickly. The bill would require the assessment to consult offices within NOAA, the academic sector (including the behavioral sciences), the media, commercial vendors, emergency management for ideas.

The bill requests to maintain the hurricane forecast improvement program, which suffered budget cuts a couple of years ago. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) filed a bill in January to maintain the program. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) was also a co-sponsor of the bill. But the language to maintain the program seems to have been added to the larger bill.

A U.S. House version of the bill passed by a voice vote in January. But since a couple of amendments were added to the bill in the senate - such as the strengthening of the tsunami detection and warnings - the bill will likely go back to the House for a vote.