Aging weather satellite's failure feared…Forecast accuracy could be reduced…

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Jessica Gresko at the Associated Press reports:

Certain hurricane forecasts could be up to 16 percent less accurate if a key weather satellite that is already beyond its expected life span fails, the National Hurricane Center’s new director said Friday in calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for expanded research and predictions.

Bill Proenza also told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview that ties between global warming and increased hurricane strength seemed a “natural linkage.” But he cautioned that other weather conditions currently play a larger part in determining the strength and number of hurricanes.

One of Proenza’s immediate concerns is the so-called “QuikScat” weather satellite, which lets forecasters measure basics such as wind speed. Replacing it would take at least four years even if the estimated $400 million cost were available immediately, he said.

It is currently in its seventh year of operation and was expected to last five, Proenza said, and it is only a matter of time until it fails.

Without the satellite providing key data, Proenza said, both two- and three-day forecasts of a storm’s path would be affected. The two-day forecast could be 10 percent worse; the three-day one could be affected up to 16 percent, Proenza said.

That would mean longer stretches of coastline would have to be placed under warnings, and more people than necessary would have to evacuate.

Average track errors last year were about 100 miles on two-day forecasts and 150 miles on three-day predictions. Track errors have been cut in half over the past 15 years. Losing QuikScat could erode some of those gains, Proenza said, adding he did not know of any plans to replace it.

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