(MENAFN - Gulf Times) President Donald Trump may want to kill 250mn in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coastal and marine programmes, but there's one area of the massive data-collecting agency he seems keen on sparing: its satellite fleet.
A sprawling agency under the Department of Commerce with 12,000 employees, NOAA's charge is watching the oceans, the climate, the sun and the weather. Satellites are its eyes — gathering data on everything from gravity waves in the atmosphere to lightning strikes. There's even one parked 1mn miles (1.6mn km) from home watching the sun.
Without them, the National Weather Service's forecasting would be set back decades. So Trump's plan to maintain funding for the satellite systems came as welcome news on Thursday.
'I am heartened those facilities aren't being cut, said Bob Henson, a meteorologist with Weather Underground based in Boulder, Colorado. 'What goes into forecast models is satellite data, and it would be a significant impact not to have those.
Not to mention they're big business. Raytheon Co has estimated that weather satellites, instruments and data-collection products could be a 15bn market over the next five years. Lockheed Martin Corp had a hand in designing the equipment that locates lightning strikes on the GOES-16 launched earlier this year. (Lightning is a good indicator of a hurricane's future intensity.)
The GOES-16 satellite floating 22,300 miles above Earth is the first of four new ones being deployed as part of a 10.8bn programme that's based in Wallops Island, Virginia. GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites.
Trump proposed in his budget on Thursday to maintain funding for the programme, so they keep relaying 'critical weather data to help protect life and property.
There's another type of satellite in polar orbit. These sweep the entire planet, according to Henson. Together, these two kinds of satellites form the backbone of modern weather prediction. The data hey collect informs models that, in turn, move natural gas markets daily by projecting how demand there might be for the heating fuel. Retailers plan store inventories based on those weather forecasts, airlines plot routes and avoid turbulence, and governors and mayors decide evacuations ahead of storms and floods.
In fact, about one-third of US gross domestic product comes from industries vulnerable to changes in the weather, according to John Dutton, president of Prescient Weather Crunching data from NOAA and predicting it are companies ranging from AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania, to International Business Machines Corp, which recently started using its Watson artificial-intelligence platform to make better predictions.
For a look at all of the budget cuts Trump is proposing, read this story.
The National Weather Service, an arm of NOAA, referred all questions about the budget to the Commerce Department.
In January, during an interview at an American Meteorological Society meeting in Seattle, weather service director Louis Uccellini spoke briefly on how the budget might play out. He said at the time that he was optimistic his agency's lifesaving role would continue to have Washington's backing.
'We've enjoyed tremendous support from Congress and the White House, Uccellini said.
Going forward, satellites will only play a larger role, said Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. 'It seems like more and more initialisation data from satellites is getting fed into computer modelling, Rogers said. 'They are replacing data from weather balloons.
In 2014, some of that data was lost and the quality of weather models — or lack thereof — was noticeable, he said.
'Forecasting has improved over time pretty consistently and steadily, Henson said. 'In the last 20 years, we have really started to see the benefits of that process.