Trouble Ahead: Weather Satellites in 'Rapid Decline'

Number will drop 'precipitously' by 2020
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2012 3:15 AM CDT
In this satellite handout from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Rina churns October 26, 2011 in the Caribbean Sea.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – If you like to complain about the unreliability of the weather forecast, get ready to rant: The weather satellites orbiting the Earth are "beginning a rapid decline" in both quality and quantity, a new report finds, and squeezed budgets mean replacements may not be forthcoming. NASA and NOAA Earth observation missions are at 23 this year, but will see a "precipitous" drop to just six by 2020, while the number of satellites monitoring the Earth will drop from 110 last year to less than 30 in the same time period.

That means the US could see problems tracking tornadoes, predicting hurricanes, and studying climate change, USA Today reports. "We'll slowly become data-starved here," says one engineer who contributed to the report. Five years ago, a similar report forecast that eight satellites would be in orbit by this year—just three actually are. We could see "profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards," warns the chair of the committee that released the report.

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