A Warning To You: It will be much harder for the nation to predict weather during our three year blinding polar orbiting satellite gap

noaanprime1With this note I want to give you a personal warning for your awareness.

I also hope that collectively we can take action to mitigate this mess but that step will probably only occur after more awareness so step one is to inform you of this.

 

Did you know that the nation will suffer a blinding outage of our polar orbiting weather satellites?

Why is this important to you?

These are the satellites that provide data to models that allow the very accurate modeling of storms. These satellites give us the ability to track and predict where storms will go and what damage they may cause. These are key to our ability to issue weather warnings that save lives and property. Remember Hurricane Sandy? There was horrible loss of property, but due to very accurate warnings massive loss of life was avoided. Without the polar orbiting satellites all predictions would have had Sandy estimated to staying out at sea. Thanks to the satellites we knew it was turning west and were able to act on warnings.

You may be wondering about yesterday's horrible/deadly/mile-wide tornado that hit Oklahoma. While we mourn those innocent who died in this terrible storm and are all shocked by the devastation  imagine what it would have been like if our ability to track and predict where these storms form and go were impeded.

Those are just two bad examples. The sad fact is the loss of these satellites will hurt multiple industries that depend on them every single day.

Polar weather satellites also support national security. Military and intelligence operations worldwide need these satellites. Losing them will hurt the US national security worldwide as well as our citizens at home.

I point you to some additional reading below. These are from official sources and I believe them, but I worry that their estimates are wrong. Just based on history of complex systems we never get it right when it comes to fielding major/costly/complex systems on time.  So we may be looking at a longer than anticipated gap.

That said, official projections seem to be for current systems to degrade in 2015 and new ones to come on station between two and five years later.  I would guess it would be a three year gap.

One other note: I don't want to be too alarming, I just want to alarm at the right degree. There are also geo-stationary satellites that give fixed views of the US. Although they would be less effective without the polar orbiting satellites, they would give some data and we would have some predictive models, just not models that are as good as we have lived with.

So, be warned and think through personally what this means to your business and home and family. But we should also all collectively show interest in addressing/mitigating this gap.

I know things can be done. For example, what if we seeded the ocean with more Wave Gliders?  That would not provide the data needed but might help some. And what if we rapidly configured a fleet of aircraft that could provide 24/7 coverage over all the US and the oceans? This would be expensive and probably not as accurate as the overhead systems, but would be a huge help. Our country already has info sharing agreements with others and maybe we can do more there for weather data? For example, NOAA leverages info from a European EUMETSAT that gives some coverage in this domain. Why not ask them for more help? (maybe we already have and maybe they are doing all they can do?).

Another idea would be to station three high altitude Aerostat high above the US. This could be done on short order if someone focused on this. The bad news is I am not sure anyone at NASA, NOAA or DoD could focus on this right now. Maybe some fast moving group of entrepreneurs?

Those are just some ideas from an amateur. Would love to hear more.

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About Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley is a co-founder and Partner at Cognitio, the publisher of CTOvision.com and ThreatBrief.com . Bob's background is as an all source intelligence analyst and an enterprise CTO. Find him on Twitter at @BobGourley