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Hurricane satellite is past its life expectancy

April 10, 2007|Ken Kaye | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — A satellite crucial to developing hurricane forecasts is past its life expectancy and could die at any time.

U.S. Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) said Monday that he planned to make federal funding for its replacement a top priority.

"It's totally unacceptable, with what this country's been through, that we won't have all the necessary forecasting equipment available to us," Klein said.

Officials of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say it would cost $375 million to $400 million to replace the satellite. They say the money isn't available.

Klein said he would do "whatever it takes" to find funding in light of forecasts for a busy storm season. Storm forecaster William M. Gray has predicted 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five intense.

Klein called the impending demise of the Quick Scatterometer, or QuikSCAT, "alarming."

"We cannot afford to take any steps backward," he said.

"In Florida, as in many other parts of the country, we rely heavily on state-of-the-art science and technology to help predict the path of hurricanes."

The QuikSCAT has a sensor that provides meteorologists with a storm's wind patterns.

It helped the National Hurricane Center achieve record-breaking accuracy with its track forecasts last year.

Without it, the accuracy of track forecasts could suffer by 16%, when storms are three days out, and by 10% when storms are two days out, said Bill Proenza, the hurricane center's director.

The satellite, launched in 1999, was designed to last five years.

It will go into its eighth year this summer. Klein says he wants to know why the satellite's planned obsolescence is just now being addressed; officials say it would take at least four years to launch a replacement.

Klein said in the meantime the forecast tools on hurricane hunter aircraft should be beefed up. Anson Franklin, NOAA spokesman, said $10 million has been spent to equip the planes with "active microwave scatterometers," which provide technology similar to the QuikSCAT.

Klein said he would discuss funding for the next generation of weather satellite with the heads of the House Committee on Science and Technology as well as the Appropriations Committee.

"The best thing we can do to reduce the casualties and damage is to have good forecasting information ahead of time," he said.

At last week's National Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, Proenza said the nation's hurricane protection program is under-funded by "hundreds of millions of dollars."

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