President Donald Trump signed into law the H.R. 353 bill, the “Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017,” which reauthorizes and modifies the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s: (1) weather research and forecasting programs; and (2) tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research and mitigation programs.
The bill, which received strong bipartisan support, was passed in the House of Representatives in January and was approved by the Senate on March 29. The legislation authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prioritize research to improve weather data, modeling, computing, forecasting and warnings to better protect lives and property.
“The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is a major step toward more accurate and timely weather predictions,” said Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK), the bill’s sponsor. “When a major storm or tornado is quickly approaching your community, every additional minute of preparation time counts. This legislation strengthens our country’s commitment to severe weather forecasting and ensures NOAA has access to the best weather data,” he added.
This legislation directs the NOAA Administrator to focus resources and effort to:
- Prioritize NOAA research on next generation weather data, modeling, and computing;
- Emphasize developing much more accurate forecasts and longer warning times for high impact weather events;
- Support proactive technology transfer of weather research into operations to protect lives and property;
- Create focused programs to extend warning lead times and improve forecasts for tornadoes and hurricanes specifically;
- Develop a plan to utilize observing system simulation experiments and innovative technology to regain U.S. superiority in weather modeling and forecasts;
- Employ new commercial data options and private sector weather solutions; and
- Enhance coordination among various federal government weather stakeholders.
Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, praised the action of his peers. “…We took a major step to transform our nation’s weather forecasting. The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act will enable new weather research, models, and technologies to better protect lives and property. With this bipartisan effort, we will improve forecasting by looking to the private sector for new technologies and weather solutions. This bill gives NOAA a clear vision and allows them the flexibility to buy new, affordable, and potentially better sources of data. With more and better options, we can finally make needed improvements to our weather forecasting capabilities. I look forward to the president signing this critical legislation so that we can make our weather industry great again.”
“Preparing in advance for tsunami can save lives and property in coastal communities across the United States,” said Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “For residents of the Pacific Northwest, the question isn’t ‘if’ a tsunami will hit our coast; it’s a question of ‘when’ it will happen. This law will help protect coastal communities by improving our understanding of the threat posed by tsunami events, strengthening forecasting, and improving communication with and notification to residents. As a leader on the Science Committee’s Environment Subcommittee, I will work tirelessly with all of my colleagues to make sure these critical programs receive the full funding needed to provide the best protection possible for the millions of people who live in and visit our coastal communities.”
“Americans along the East Coast have unfortunately seen first-hand how devastating hurricanes can be,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Providing more accurate tracking and intensity forecasts will allow people to better prepare for the safety of their families, homes and businesses.”
“We cannot stop a tsunami or a hurricane, but better forecasts and better warnings will save lives and livelihoods,” said Senator Brian Schatz (D-HA), of the Bill.
While President Trump has signed this bill into law, he has yet to name a NOAA Administrator to serve at the helm of the organization. Currently Benjamin Friedman is performing the duties of NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Friedman’s regular role is as NOAA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Operations, where he serves as the agency’s chief operating officer and is responsible for the day-to-day management of NOAA’s national and international operations for oceanic and atmospheric services, research and coastal and marine stewardship.