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Trump Budget Cuts Target Hurricane-Tracking Agencies

Agencies that track and predict hurricanes are targeted for big budget cuts by the Trump Administration. (noaa.gov)
Agencies that track and predict hurricanes are targeted for big budget cuts by the Trump Administration. (noaa.gov)
September 12, 2017

BALTIMORE, Md. – President Trump's proposed budget would cut nearly a billion dollars from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That could hobble hurricane tracking and prediction.

The administration wants to cut NOAA funding by more than a sixth - which would hit the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

Former NOAA chief of staff Renee Stone is now the chief of staff at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She says those agencies' predictions save countless lives - compared with those who died in past storms such as the one that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900.

"The hurricane that hit Galveston, no one knew that was coming and thousands of people died," she says. "In Harvey, it was still a disaster but they were able to make a lot of decisions that helped keep a lot of people safe."

Budgets passed by the House and Senate include smaller cuts to NOAA. Stone says the Trump budget reductions seem tied to the agency's research into climate change.

Before coming to office, Trump described climate change as a hoax designed to weaken the U.S. economy. His position seems to have shifted some, and local officials in Texas and Florida cite higher sea levels and warmer ocean waters as contributing to damage from storms.

Stone says even if you set the climate issue aside, it makes sense to invest in the complicated and expensive job of predicting where hurricanes are going.

"No matter what you believe about climate change, we've experienced a huge number of disasters in the last several years," she adds/ "Wouldn't it be nice if we knew seven days out or ten days out what the hurricane would do with greater accuracy?"

NOAA does not have a permanent director currently. The job is being filled by a deputy. Stone says right now the agency is "all hands on deck" - totally devoted to the job of tracking the current storms. But she says the weather predictions people see on the evening news are the result of a lot of costly scientific work.

"A lot of research, a lot of hard work, a lot of cutting-edge technology goes into that forecast," explains Stone. "And these budget cuts really threaten that."

Veronica Carter/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - MD