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Say Nothing About the Failing Satellite

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the or-about-global-warming-either dept.

Space 193

The QuikScat satellite used for predicting the intensity and path of hurricanes could fail at any time (it's already past its designed lifetime). Without this satellite, the accuracy of US forecasters' predictions could be degraded by up to 16% — and there are no plans for any replacement. Bill Proenza, director of the National Hurricane Center, has been outspokenly critical of his superiors on this situation, but he has been warned to stop commenting on it.

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FP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534065)

FP!

Step right up! Bargains galore! (3, Funny)

dangitman (862676) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534071)

The QuikScat satellite used for predicting the intensity and path of hurricanes could fail at any time

Wouldn't a satellite named "QuickScat" be properly used for improvising jazz lyrics?

Re:Step right up! Bargains galore! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534109)

...or for optimizing the function and convenience of public washrooms

or (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534201)

Wouldn't a satellite named "QuickScat" be properly used for improvising jazz lyrics?
or a Taco Bell commercial. Just saying.

Re:or (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535799)

Naw, that Taco Bell commercial was called "RatScat". [youtube.com]

It may seem perverse, but there's no such thing as bad publicity!

What it means (4, Informative)

the_mighty_$ (726261) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534307)

Scatterometer [wikipedia.org] :

"A radar scatterometer is designed to determine the normalized radar cross section (sigma-0) of the surface. Scatterometers operate by transmitting a pulse of microwave energy towards the Earth's surface and measuring the reflected energy. A separate measurement of the noise-only power is made and subtracted from the signal+noise measurement to determine the backscatter signal power. Sigma-0 is computed from the signal power measurement using the distributed target radar equation.

"The primary application of spaceborne scatterometry has been measurements near-surface winds over the ocean. By combining sigma-0 measurements from different azimuth angles, the near-surface wind vector over the ocean's surface can be determined using a geophysical model function (GMF) which relates wind and backscatter. Scatterometer wind measurements are partiularly useful for monitoring hurricanes. Scatterometer data is being applied to the study of tropical vegetation, soil moisture, polar ice, and global change."

Re:What it means (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534357)

but it's not called the "QuickScatt," or the "QuickScatterometer." It's called the "QuickScat." The term "Scat" has long been used for a form of jazz lyrics, or alternative, things that are scatalogical in nature. Didn't they put any thought into the name?

Re:What it means (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535095)

Maybe it's not the official name.

Re:What it REALLY means (1, Flamebait)

dammy (131759) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535465)

As a native Floridian who still resides in FL, let me assure all /.ers, 16% worst prediction of the job they are currently doing won't mean squat. Their prediction of hurricane tracks has been horrid at best within any timeline of meaning preparedness time period. One has to take exhausting prep if it's coming for you, but you only have to do minor prep if it's passing within hundred miles. Had their predictions been on the nose, more or less, I would be horrified that they let a satelite go beyond it's expected life without having backups already in orbit. Having suffered getting my cage rattled or lead to believe it wouldn't hit here 12 hours before the Eyewall actually does hit, I'm not impressed with forecasting predictions. Therefore, 16% is meaningless to those of us who are sitting in the bulleye zone.

Re:What it REALLY means (1)

Xabraxas (654195) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535641)

So what you're saying essentially is that hurricane predictions are already bad so letting them get worse is no big deal? Improved technology would likely replace the existing satellite which would mean better predictions instead of even worse predictions which you seem content with for some strange reason. You would expect the opposite to be true.

Re:Step right up! Bargains galore! (-1, Redundant)

xs650 (741277) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534387)

In Soviet America satellites scat on you.

Re:Step right up! Bargains galore! (2, Funny)

MrYotsuya (27522) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535157)

The QuikScat satellite used for predicting the intensity and path of hurricanes could fail at any time

Wouldn't a satellite named "QuickScat" be properly used for improvising jazz lyrics?


You're close. It does both. That way the weather forecast is more entertaining. Who doesn't like it when a middle-aged white guy starts belting out "skeep-beep de bop-bop beep bop bo-dope skeetle-at-de-op-de-day! "

Re:Step right up! Bargains galore! (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535883)

Sounds like they need a scatologist to get that thing fixed!

Burt Rutan Called. (1, Funny)

Prysorra (1040518) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534103)

Says he can do it soon. Didn't leave his number :(

Is it any wonder? (4, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534113)

Like many important things, this has taken a back seat to the needs of the Military Machine to support Iraq and well as their own technology projects for spying on Americans and the rest of the world.

Re:Is it any wonder? (4, Funny)

MrMr (219533) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534301)

Only a few more years and everybody in the US will also understand why all their new democratic friends in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait etc. consider the war in Iraq a win-win situation.

No, it's part of the new policy on global warming (2, Insightful)

zahl2 (821572) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534683)

No, it's part of the new policy on global warming: if you can't detect it, it isn't there.

And so funding was cut on climate monitoring satelites. Even though we need more monitoring on ocean temperatures and the like to refine computer models. I imagine this was just caught up in it, since ocean temperatures are sorta coorelated with strong hurricanes...

No science is good science!

Opps --- warm waters DO relate to storm intensity (2, Informative)

zahl2 (821572) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534743)

In my going for sarcasm in the last sentence, I didn't mean to imply that ocean temperatures are only slightly correlated with hurricanes. They are: warmer water gives you stronger hurricanes, because that's how they build up their energy.

Now here's the interesting part: the warmer waters given to us by climate change so far haven't actually been also giving us stronger storms. Instead they've been giving us more frequent storms. And so hurricane season actually started several weeks early this year, whereas when I was a kid, I remember them announcing the start of hurricane season, but then you didn't actually have any storms out there until August. And now you get them in May!

Re:Opps --- warm waters DO relate to storm intensi (2, Interesting)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534771)

And yet that was the seventeenth storm that we know of that happened before the start of hurricane season. The current hurricane cycle is the same cycle we've been observing since we've started recording these things. The effect of ocean warming, if there is an effect, on hurricane intensity/frequency is currently not great enough to be measured.

Re:Is it any wonder? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534757)

Hmm, I'd believe you, except that a critical number of our GPS satellites are much closer to failure. The military isn't getting those replaced either. Go fuck yourself.

Re:Is it any wonder? (2, Interesting)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534765)

That wasn't my immediate reaction. I assumed that allowing a hurricane weather satellite to fall out of orbit and not get replaced was the first step in a massive concerted public relations offensive coordinated by the American government and its press to suppress news and information about hurricanes. After all Katrina was a PR disaster and the satellite ruined a bunch of potentially good excuses and talking points for them. They couldn't say that the hurricane itself was unexpected. They had to pretend to be surprised by the levees. "Nobody expected that the levees would break". Um yeah, that's what you have to say when you don't prepare better excuses before inclement weather arrives.

The satellite was launched by Clinton anyway so it's probably better just to let it fall out of the sky with no replacement until we figure out how to launch political operatives into geosynchronous orbit so they can beam down pictures of calm seas and balmy weather. If Clinton lied about a blow job how can we trust his satellites?

Re:Is it any wonder? (5, Interesting)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534937)

Satellites don't just appear out of thin air. They have to be designed and built and tested and put onto a launch schedule. With NASA's already anemic budget being mostly eaten up by the money pit of the ISS to keep the Russians afloat and NOAA having huge commitments all over the place (Do you know how many programs and areas of responsibility NOAA has? It's staggering.) I imagine Congress just thinks it's cheaper to pay the cost of evacuating more people over the next ten years than pay the large upfront cost for getting a new satellite out NOW. That's the same reason the levee system in New Orleans was never improved, funnily enough. Congress decided it wasn't worth billions of dollars to prepare for a "once in 200 years" event. If it'll only happen once in 200 years, then you can stretch out the monetary damages over that time period as well (in theory). Preparing for a category 5 storm just isn't worth the cost.

The satellites had nothing to do with embarrassing anyone over Katrina. What's embarrassing is that my damn governor refused Federal help and let people die in their homes. Which (combined with the hugely incompetent recovery effort) is why she isn't running for re-election.

Re:Is it any wonder? (2, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535005)

What's embarrassing is that my damn governor refused Federal help and let people die in their homes. Which (combined with the hugely incompetent recovery effort) is why she isn't running for re-election.

That's not what Heckofajob Brownie says. [foxnews.com]

Re:Is it any wonder? (1)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535145)

That is what Mayor Nagin [cnn.com] said and the Governor admitted herself when she thought the cameras were turned off. Did the Feds screw up? Sure. But nothing compared to how badly my state borked the whole thing.

Re:Is it any wonder? (4, Informative)

YU Nicks NE Way (129084) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535621)

The issue has been widely debated -- she issued the necessary declaration [louisiana.gov] . Nagin was at best wrong, and, at worst, lying.

Re:Is it any wonder? (4, Interesting)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535471)

Satellites don't just appear out of thin air. They have to be designed and built and tested and put onto a launch schedule.

Thanks, Ron Obvious! :P

With NASA's already anemic budget being mostly eaten up by the money pit of the ISS to keep the Russians afloat and NOAA having huge commitments all over the place (Do you know how many programs and areas of responsibility NOAA has? It's staggering.) I imagine Congress just thinks it's cheaper to pay the cost of evacuating more people over the next ten years than pay the large upfront cost for getting a new satellite out NOW. Congress decided it wasn't worth billions of dollars to prepare for a "once in 200 years" event. If it'll only happen once in 200 years, then you can stretch out the monetary damages over that time period as well (in theory). Preparing for a category 5 storm just isn't worth the cost.

They used to feel the same way about terrorist attacks. Then 3000 people got killed, and we've more than doubled the defense budget since then, to $739 billion [slate.com] if you count the yearly emergency funding bills. The comparable figure in 2003 was $480 billion. [msn.com] Meanwhile Katrina killed 1000 people, about 1/3 as long ago. Somehow we didn't react to that one. For FY 2007, NASA's budget was $16.8 billion, and NOAA's was $3.6 billion.

Even according to your own logic (which in principle, I agree with) this is ridiculous. We can afford to replace a weather satellite.

Re:Is it any wonder? (0)

Biff Stu (654099) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534875)

You forgot about the long-standing Replubican strategy to buy votes with tax cuts. With a never-ending structural deficit, they can "starve the beast" and put an end to those welfare queen scientists living large on the government dime.

Re:Is it any wonder? (3, Insightful)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534983)

Except the deficit has been shrinking as federal revenue skyrockets since the tax cuts have been passed...

Re:Is it any wonder? (4, Insightful)

jbengt (874751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535293)

where are your sarcasm tags?

Re:Is it any wonder? (1)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19536225)

There's no sarcasm tags because I'm serious. Look below, someone asked me for my data and I will post it.

Re:Is it any wonder? (1)

chris_eineke (634570) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535549)

Not for long. Once the Federal Bank decides to do an interest rate hike, it'll all go to hell -- once again.

SNAFU.

Re:Is it any wonder? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535889)

I'd love to see where your data is coming from.

Trying to create their own reality again, I see... (4, Insightful)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534141)

The current crowd in power really does seem to believe they can create their own reality. As Ron Suskind reported, [nytimes.com]

"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'''

But, as Ronald Reagan said—quoting John Adams, consciously or unconsciously, without attribution—"facts are stubborn things."

full quote (5, Insightful)

the_mighty_$ (726261) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534269)

The full John Adams quote (from "Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials"):

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

The Founding Fathers wisdom FTW!

Re:full quote (2, Insightful)

poopdeville (841677) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534927)

Unfortunately, our passions often dictate which facts enter into consideration as evidence. Judicious lying can take care of the rest.

Re:Trying to create their own reality again, I see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534271)

I don't see any attribution for that "senior adviser to Bush" quoted by Ron Suskind. How do I know that quote isn't whole cloth made up by Suskind in an effort to create his own reality?

Re:Trying to create their own reality again, I see (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534415)

Here's a scary quote from the linked article:

''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . .

Global Warming (5, Funny)

cbelle13013 (812401) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534173)

<tin foil hat on>

This is all part of a ploy by the global warming alarmists to show how "crazy" hurricanes are behaving and how meteorologists can no longer predict their path with the accuracy they could in the past. To ensure another Katrina doesn't happy, the Imperial Federal Government will establish behavior guidelines to make sure the citizens are acting in a way that is friendly to our environment.

Shortly after that, Freedom and Liberty are brought out back and shot.

</tin foil hat off>

Boy it's a lovely day outside.

Re:Global Warming (1)

eneville (745111) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534309)

<tin foil hat on>

This is all part of a ploy by the global warming alarmists to show how "crazy" hurricanes are behaving and how meteorologists can no longer predict their path with the accuracy they could in the past. To ensure another Katrina doesn't happy, the Imperial Federal Government will establish behavior guidelines to make sure the citizens are acting in a way that is friendly to our environment.

Shortly after that, Freedom and Liberty are brought out back and shot.

</tin foil hat off>
that does not appear to be such an outrageous suggestion, very expensive in terms of insurance ... and recovery costs.

Re:Global Warming (1)

vtcodger (957785) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534913)

***To ensure another Katrina doesn't happy, the Imperial Federal Government will establish behavior guidelines to make sure the citizens are acting in a way that is friendly to our environment.***

And, of course. behavior guidelines for citizens will be augmented by behavior guidelines for tropical storms and hurricanes. They will behave or they will be dealt with most harshly. America will not tolerate terrorist behavior by meteorological entities.

Re:Global Warming (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535909)

We shall not yield to these Jihadist weather patterns.

Suppressing the knowlege of climate change (1)

randolph (2352) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534221)

appears to be the motivation here. I don't know exactly what the radical right thinks they're going to do about the actual hurricanes, but I guess it's about what the radical right thought they were going to do about the actual Iraqis.

Re:Suppressing the knowlege of climate change (1)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535045)

Except the "radical right" hasn't been in power since at least January and the "Newer, Lefter, Leaner" Congress we have now hasn't felt it to be a funding priority, either. This isn't a right vs. left thing, it's a "I can't tell my constituents I'm bringing them buckets of money if I fund this" thing. No congresscritter is going to get behind this unless he/she can be guaranteed the Satellite will be built by a company in their area. And that's a lot of money and huge lead up time, to boot.

Re:Suppressing the knowlege of climate change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535731)

I suspect not. QuikSCAT was built and launched when the previous satellite (NSCAT) failed prematurely. It was designed to be built quickly and to last a couple years until a copy (Seawinds) could be launched on a Japanese Spacecraft (ADEOS-II aka Midori-2). Seawinds launched later than expected, and unfortunately, Midori-2 (which carried a number of other instruments) also failed after about 6 months, leaving QuikSCAT trooping along.

The next ocean winds measurement instrument was intended to be a different design on the NPOESS spacecraft, but that spacecraft encountered a lot of development issues with other instruments, and is a long way from flying.

So, it's not that they didn't want the data.. it's that other sources of data were expected come on line to replace it, and unless you really have a spare $100-150M sitting around, that's the way it sits.

Can someone who knows about hurricane prediction (4, Interesting)

the_mighty_$ (726261) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534231)

Can someone who knows about hurricane prediction please answer a quick question for me? I heard countless predictions on the media that global warming was going to cause the 2006 hurricane season to be catastrophically intense and large. Obviously it wasn't.

Where were the media's predictions coming from? Did the hurricane forcasters in the scientific community screw up (i.e. were the scientists really predicting a large hurricane season)? Or did the media just present a one-sided view when really many hurricane forcasters were not predicting anything unusual?

Because if the hurricane forcasting is so off as to generate such predictions as we were heard about 2006, then a decrease in accuracy of 16% probably isn't that serious, is it (they're so far off anyways)?

I'm writing as a layman here.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534369)

there was an unexpectedly intense El Nino, which disrupted the 2006 season.

its not there this year, so there is nothing to stop the 2007 being as bad as predicted.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

ferd_farkle (208662) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534385)

The forecast for the 2006 hurricane season called for a lot of storms. They got that long-range forecast wrong. The forecast was over-hyped in the press, no doubt because of Katrina. Sometimes they get it wrong. Mostly they don't.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (4, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534441)

if the hurricane forcasting is so off as to generate such predictions as we were heard about 2006, then a decrease in accuracy of 16% probably isn't that serious, is it (they're so far off anyways)?

AFAICT, that this satellite helps to predict the behavior and path of an individual active hurricane, which would be useful for deciding where and when to post warnings and evacuation orders. That task would have almost nothing in common with forecasting the statistical nature of an overall hurricane season.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (2, Informative)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534567)

Lots more about QuickScat here:

http://manati.orbit.nesdis.noaa.gov/quikscat/ [noaa.gov]

I would agree that the data from the satellite is used to predict the path of individual hurricanes. The season prediction probably wouldn't include real time wind speed data.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

deadmantyping (827232) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534449)

The National Hurricane Center predicted a more than typical number of storms for that year indicating that we were going to have a very active season. They base this on average water surface temperatures, atmospheric pressure trends and much much more. The problem is that even with all of this information it is possible that something that they didn't take into account will affect the hurricane season and consequently make their yearly prediction wrong. Predicting the intensity of a hurricane season is not a particularly simple thing to do, and just like any weather prediction it has a high possibility of being incorrect. Like the other reply said, the media simply grabbed onto this prediction and basically struck fear into the people living here, but I suppose that alarming the people and forcing them to prepare for something that might happen is better than predicting an under active hurricane season and being surprised.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

Wigner's Friend (1116071) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534453)

The predictions that the media reports do come from scientists -- generally either from the National Hurricane Center or Dr. William Gray at Colorado State University. An unexpected El Nino developed last year that caused the spring forecasts to be wrong. see http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/s2634.htm [noaa.gov] and http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/s2748.htm [noaa.gov]

What is 16% worse than 0% accuracy? "DIV 0 err!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534485)

So what's to fear? Last year the weather service predicted, what, a half-dozen major hurricanes to hit the East Coast of America? And there were zero. A 16% loss in accuracy would mean what, exactly? How could it get worse than that ? Looks to me that when you have zero % accuracy, a 16% drop in accuracy might actually be an improvement.

Re:What is 16% worse than 0% accuracy? "DIV 0 err! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535489)

You're stupid.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (4, Interesting)

SNR monkey (1021747) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534491)

A few things here:

Firstly, I believe that when it is referring to hurricane forecasts, it is actually referring to hurricane tracking, not predicting the number of hurricanes in the upcoming season. A 16% decrease in the accuracy of hurricane forecasting therefore would result in meteorologists being less sure of the path that a hurricane would take. It's possible it's also referring to the prediction of a storm system being elevated to 'hurricane' status after forming a tropical storm/depression.

Even assuming I am completely wrong (that wouldn't be surprising) and the satellite will be use to help predict hurricane seasons, hopefully the replacement satellite will offer forecasters some new information to help in the future (Not every year's predictions are as off as the 2006 predictions, but if they were, I'd agree with you, a accurcy decreasing by 16% really won't make much of a difference.)

Secondly, while the 2006 hurricane season was grossly overstated [noaa.gov] and scientists really were predicting a record number of hurricanes, you can blame the media for creating a frenzy regarding the results. In any other year, the prediction might have gotten a mention on page 20 of a newspaper, or the science section of CNN.com, but after hurricane Katrina, media outlets jumped at the opportunity for more scaremongering. So I'd say, both are to blame.

One of the important things to realize is that he's not saying the acgency is necessarily underfunded, but that it has the money to easily replace the satellite but it is being used for PR instead.
It looks like they're predicting a record [noaa.gov] number of storms this year too..

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534719)

Secondly, while the 2006 hurricane season was grossly overstated and scientists really were predicting a record number of hurricanes, you can blame the media for creating a frenzy regarding the results. In any other year, the prediction might have gotten a mention on page 20 of a newspaper, or the science section of CNN.com, but after hurricane Katrina, media outlets jumped at the opportunity for more scaremongering. So I'd say, both are to blame.

No, The Press is not responsible for bad predictions on the part of NOAA. It's not The Press that made the predictions, only reported them. And what if the predictions had been correct and The Press had not reported them? The fault for bad predictions lies with those who made them.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (5, Informative)

GOES_user (852842) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535285)

QuikSCAT is for profiling a storm, which does improve the forecast. Every mile of coastline that has to be evacuated costs us around $1,000,000 (maybe more these days), and a 16% decrease in track forecast accuracy has a real monetary impact.

Predicting the number of storms in a season is tricky business. Last year El Nino fired up, which created a situation that suppressed hurricanes. Otherwise the conditions were very good for hurricane development. That hasn't really changed, so this year could see many storms since the El Nino has weakened. But it is possible it will just be an average year.

NOAA's and NASA's earth observing satellite fleets are aging, and replacements are either not in the queue or 8+ years away. Our radar satellites like QuikSCAT and microwave-sensing satellites, both of which are critical for tropical weather monitoring, are past their useful lifetimes with no replacements on deck. This is a problem. One could argue that the problem is funding, and to some degree it is, but another part of the problem is management and a lack of useful oversight by Congress. We are going to lose some of our weather and climate monitoring abilities because we launched a number of research satellites that we came to rely on and then did not make any plans to replace them.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (4, Interesting)

confused one (671304) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534579)

The predictions were based on the computer models. In hindsight, they went back and analyzed the atmospheric data and found that there was a lot of dust in the atmosphere, being carried by the prevailing winds. The dust was coming from the sahara. It appears that the dust had the affect of reducing storm intensity. That's the kind of thing that's hard to account for in a model. Especially when it the variables can change significantly from year to year.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535037)

The predictions were based on the computer models. In hindsight, they went back and analyzed the atmospheric data and found that there was a lot of dust in the atmosphere, being carried by the prevailing winds. The dust was coming from the sahara. It appears that the dust had the affect of reducing storm intensity. That's the kind of thing that's hard to account for in a model. Especially when it the variables can change significantly from year to year.

Wait... others here say it was El Nino that kept the hurricanes away. Which is it then? Both? If so, why have I never seen anyone mention both in the same explanation?

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534589)

I heard countless predictions on the media that global warming was going to cause the 2006 hurricane season to be catastrophically intense and large. Obviously it wasn't.

I don't know a hell of a lot about hurricane prediction, but I did hear one expert say that el-nino had a moderating influence on the 2006 hurricane season, and el-nino is wearing off for 2007.

As far as the media is concerned, I wouldn't trust them a lick to report anything regarding science. Global warming has an effect on the long term outlook for hurricanes, not one single year. Looking at and single data point like "it's hotter in place X in year Y" is inaccurate and misleading. Global warming means average temperature across the globe over long periods of time. In this case that means that the 2006 hurricane season being an inactive one means very little.

Re:Can someone who knows about hurricane predictio (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534925)

The Science Friday radio show had a hurricane center prediction rep on the show, and he basically owned up to it. He did say that 15 out of 16 of the annual predictions turned out to underpredict the hurricanes. It turned out that they missed the El Nino, which has the effect of chopping off the upper part of the hurricane storm, weakening them and reducing their likelihood of formation.

I don't watch the news channels but every time a weather scientist, geologist, biologist or glaciologist is on Science Friday, they are quick to say that it's hard to discern exactly how much of an effect that global warming had on a specific situation vs. normal cyclical weather.

Bush to NASA Admin Michael D. Griffin: (1)

Pluvius (734915) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534237)

"You're doing a heckuva job, Griffy!"

Just before the next hurricane wipes out Miami, probably.

Rob

Re:Bush to NASA Admin Michael D. Griffin: (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534761)

Houston seems like a better option. And the only one to shake some sense into the current White House crowd. There is no better reality check than seeing your own home levelled to ground. Pity for all the collateral damage though.

What the letter REALLY said (1)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534239)

"Dear Mr. Proenza,

How dare you point out the fact that the Emperor has no clothes!

Now, instead of spending millions of taxpayer dollars on PR, we're going to have to actually keep our mission-critical technology going?

You sir, do NOT know how to properly game the system, and if that isn't bad enough, you're trying to stop us from doing it too?

You shall be punished.

Signed,
Your Boss."

Re:What the letter REALLY said (1)

sevenfactorial (996184) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534615)

I suspect this is correct as well.

Either there is a rational higher priority concern for the weather service, or else this is just the usual unfortunate result of criticizing people in power.

In pure dollar terms, surely accurate hurricane prediction is one of the biggest societal payoffs of the NOAA. I'm curious as to what the "higher ups" think would be a better priority for the organization.

Re:What the letter REALLY said (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534769)

"Dear US Attorney,
How dare you point out the fact that the Emperor has no case! You sir, do NOT know how to properly game the system, and if that isn't bad enough, you're trying to stop us from doing it too? You shall be punished.
Signed,
Alberto Gonzales


Funny how little simular those situations look. By funny, I mean sad.

Re:What the letter REALLY said (1)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534843)

Dude, I SWEAR I typed that in off the top of my head. Now, maybe without realizing it, I'd seen something of that sort before, but honestly, I was just typing what came to me.

Needed Expense? (3, Insightful)

charlieo88 (658362) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534241)

Cause really, what are the chances that a hurricane would destroy a major metropolitan area? Oh wait...

16% of nothing is still nothing. (0, Troll)

binaryspiral (784263) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534249)

the accuracy of US forecasters' predictions could be degraded by up to 16%

16% more crappy forecasts... great.

Recently our simple, midwest 3 day weather forecast has changed drastically four time... going from mostly rain and storms to 92F with full sun.

I'm not sure if global warming(tm) is to blame for less accurate weather models - but it's my opinion the weatherman's predictions are getting worse no matter how many satellites you give them.

Re:16% of nothing is still nothing. (2, Informative)

jovius (974690) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534569)

Miami Herald: "No replacement currently is in development and the loss of QuikScat could diminish the accuracy of some hurricane forecasts by up to 16 percent, Proenza and other experts have said."

AP: "An aging weather satellite crucial to accurate predictions on the intensity and path of hurricanes reportedly could fail at any moment, but plans to launch a replacement have been pushed back seven years to 2016. If the satellite faltered, experts estimate that the accuracy of two-day forecasts could suffer by 10 percent and three-day forecasts by 16 percent, which could translate into miles of coastline and the difference between a city being evacuated or not."

"Last year, forecasts were off an average of 111 miles two days in advance, a figure that has been cut in half over the past 15 years. But experts said that could grow 10 percent to 122 miles if the satellite is lost, causing the "cone of error" well known to coastal residents to expand."

i gather that if the satellite is lost the margin of error would expand 11 miles, which doesn't seem that drastic to me.

Re:16% of nothing is still nothing. (2, Insightful)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534823)

''causing the "cone of error" well known to coastal residents to expand.''

They've obviously also expanded the "Cone of Silence"... on their own employees.

Re:16% of nothing is still nothing. (1)

CaptDeuce (84529) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535803)

i gather that if the satellite is lost the margin of error would expand 11 miles, which doesn't seem that drastic to me.

First, just think of a hurricane as a honking big horseshoe holding a handgrenade...

Integrity (5, Insightful)

Lazarian (906722) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534251)

It's great to know that there's at least a few people with a sense of integrity and responsibility walking the halls of government agencies. People like Bill Proenza.

He'll be fired within a year.

Founding your FUD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534353)

Or maybe that's "pounding your ...."

I never cease to be amazed at people's ability to not only politicize every possible event, but for what should be reasonably objective people to read a headline and then start screeching about the evils of the powers that be.

As a simple example, the summary [taken directly from the article without actually checking other sources] makes this sound worse than it is.

Here's a bit more detail: "If the satellite falters, experts estimate that the accuracy of two-day forecasts could suffer by 10 per cent and three-day forecasts by 16 per cent. That could translate into large tracts of coastline and the difference between a city being evacuated or not.". Even this adds in a nice piece of conjecture. So, let's assume that 2 days out, the model is showing a probability path that's 100 miles wide. That translates to it now being 110 miles wide. What if the path was 300 miles wide? That's 330 miles. At 3 days, we're looking at 116 miles and 348 miles respectively.

To address where the percentages come from, you'll have to rely on my 3rd hand recollection from a newscast I saw on the subject earlier in the week. They took the models that they ran in the past with the satellite data and reran them without the data. No information was given on how accurate the models themselves are.

The info quoted above came from an AP story. A copy of which is here: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/06/13/tech -hurricane.html [www.cbc.ca]

Welcome to Dilbertville (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534367)

Sometimes you have to choose between being right and having a job.

Re:Welcome to Dilbertville (2, Informative)

Puls4r (724907) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534655)

You are more right then you know. What usually is true is cases like this is that the people splitting the money are so far removed from the people who need it that they don't know what is going on. Yes, there's an ad-campaign going on, but that's a different budget, through a difference approval chain, etc etc.

I deal with finance people on a daily basis and it's a nightmare. The last things on their mind is allowing is allowing the money to be used for useful purposes. Indeed, the system is set up to prevent the money from being spent easily.

Also, money isn't just "money". It's either capitalized money or non-capitalized, which means that it has to be spent on items that can be depreciated (like a satellite) or items that can't (like advertising).

The best part is that if you don't spend all your "money" for that year - you get in trouble. They go back and decide that because you didn't spend it (regardless of why) you had to much to begin with and they reduce your funding for next year.

On top of THAT, you have to go through "Approved" suppliers that have agreements to provide certain commodities, and those suppliers are generally pricing things 20% above their price at a place like, say, Amazon.com.

I feel his pain - but as you said, he needs to stop pissing off people to keep his job. To top it off, he's likely pissing off people who don't control the purse strings.

It is NOT a failing satellite (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534405)

It just may be experiencing a temporary deorbiting maneuver.

Intersting contrast (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534419)

This is an interesting contrast to the previous Slashdot story, in which scientists views on global warming was compared to totalitarian ideology. Now we see (again) politicians behaving in the same manner.

About satellites in general (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534619)

The problem identified by the NOAA whistleblower isn't limited to this one weather satellite. The US Government procures lots of satellites for lots of different purposes, some mundane, and some esoteric. What they have in common is: they are very expensive, have very long lead times, and they must be very, very reliable. The satellites are built by government contractors to government specs, in other words, the finished product can only be as good as the specs. How well or how poorly the government manages this process, at this point in time, is left as an exercise for the reader.

16% ???? (1)

wpiman (739077) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534693)

Are they even this accurate now?

Re:16% ???? (2, Insightful)

BossTree (737694) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534973)

The issue is the accuracy of the prediction of the hurricane path, not whether, when, or how the hurricanes form. And it's 16% less accurate as applied to the 2 day path estimation, which I believe is in the ~10% range on average. (Yes, I pay attention to this stuff being a resident of Southern Louisana for the past 5 years). Don't kid yourself: a significant increase like this in the 2 day path estimate has REAL impact on REAL people: 2 days is essentially the absolute minimum required to evacuate an area with any substantial population. A 2 day projection for may already span several hundred miles in terms of landfall, making this a significant change. Also consider the sea-side impact of prediction: increased need to pre-emptively abandon oil rigs in the Gulf and other significant effects on ship transport

Re:16% ???? (1)

reconn (578681) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535337)

I wondered about this number as well. When I did the calculations, I only got a 15% decrease in accuracy! I must have forgotten to carry the one out of my ass.

What happens when it de-orbits (1)

xmedar (55856) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534865)

Will it hit the Whitehouse? I can see the headline now... President Bush killed by flying Scat, Al Qaeda run National Weather Service stormed by FBI... Tubgirl also in custody...

Re:What happens when it de-orbits (1)

RegularFry (137639) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535477)

Will it hit the Whitehouse?

Please?

Just love these exact aproximations (1)

Excelcia (906188) | more than 7 years ago | (#19534879)

I just love these statistics they quote. "Forecasters' predictions could be degraded by up to 16% percent". Not 15%, not 17%... no... 16%. Reminds me of the core breach countdowns on ST:TNG. Every time there was going to be a catastrophic failure of some component, the computer would of course know to the exact second when the failure would occur and calmly count it down for you.

Now if we could only get Majel Barret to do some voiceover for this event:
"Sattelite failure iminent - 16% degredation of forecast capabilities will occur in seventeen days."

Re:Just love these exact aproximations (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535027)

You can pretty easily make an assessment. A large impact these measurements have is to provide initial conditions for weather models. You can turn them off and see how the forecasts compare. A large selection of cases can then be compiled to determine statistics.

Numerical weather prediction is more of an initial value problem than a misunderstanding of the physics.

the government NEEDS disasters to happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19534889)

(tinfoil hat on)

Prediction is bad because it prevents FEMA from taking over.

Many important laws are suspended when FEMA is in charge.

(tinfoil hat off)

Shame it's not a sleeping satellite (1)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535187)

Tasmin Archer would have plenty to say about it...

Not the only soon to fall satellite (5, Informative)

brennz (715237) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535195)

I work at NOAA, in the satellite group National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) http://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/ [noaa.gov]

The US government regularly under-funds satellites & space systems. You can see this with the huge cost overruns on NPOESS http://www.space.com/spacenews/archive05/NPOESS_11 2105.html [space.com] Why did NPOESS cost overruns happen? "Hey, lets do a contract on some incredibly experimental sensors involving high risk research and make sure they are on a fixed budget". Not smart.

I am off on a tangent though - Quickscat is a different story. Quickscat was a NASA R&D bird . See http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/quikscat/index. cfm [nasa.gov] I'm not clear whether it was initially launched as NASA only and handed off to us, or if they "owned" the satellite while we did the ground systems for it.

NASA does R&D type of satellites - proof of concepts, risk reduction, etc. We in NESDIS-NOAA often take over running them, or we run their sensors on our satellites. Well, these proof of concept satellites were never intended to be part of a series providing a continual new functionality.

NESDIS/NOAA has two major satellite series that will always (in the future) have spares for:
GOES series http://osd.goes.noaa.gov/ [noaa.gov]
POES series http://www.oso.noaa.gov/poes/ [noaa.gov] (although the newest will be NPOESS via a joint program with DoD replacing our POES and DoD's DMSP)

There is another satellite that is likely to fall soon too - Windsat/Coriolis http://www.ipo.noaa.gov/Projects/windsat.html [noaa.gov] While Windsat is technically a Navy satellite, we run that one too, and it has no replacement either. Fortunately, Windsat is more about Navy stuff than it is about Hurricane tracking...

Bill Proenza, as a consumer of NESDIS' satellite data, sees NOAA efforts on the publicity side as being detrimental to the funding of the NOAA-NWS-National Hurricane center funding. Well, for the sake of accuracy, a few million dollars isn't going to fix our funding shortfalls...

Until Congress starts funding new satellite development properly (not like NPOESS) this problem won't go away.

Re:Not the only soon to fall satellite (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535787)

"Quickscat is a different story. Quickscat was a NASA R&D bird . See http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/quikscat/index [nasa.gov] . cfm I'm not clear whether it was initially launched as NASA only and handed off to us, or if they "owned" the satellite while we did the ground systems for it."

As one of those toilers at JPL who worked on QuikSCAT: The instrument is a copy of one that was being built for a Japanese satellite. It was built in 13 months (hence the Quik) from spares from the one already in process, modified to fit on a commercially available satellite bus (Ball BCP2000) and launched on a surplus obsolete TitanII the AirForce had sitting around. The rush (normal spacecraft development is a 4-5 year process) was because the existing instrument, NSCAT, was on a satellite that failed after 6 months, leaving a big hole in the data, so QuikSCAT would fill in until the Japanese satellite launched and came on line (it launched late, and later failed)

The instrument was designed as part of an effort to collect 10 years or more of continuous data as part of an overall "understand the interactions of air and sea" program. So JPL developed a ground data system oriented towards that need (hosted at PODAAC). As it happens, we also had a real time feed of the data to NOAA (think of a "tee" early in the data pipeline), which, it turns out, has been very useful in the forecast business (back in 1999 and earlier, when this was all being done, people weren't sure it would be useful.. certainly not to the point of kicking in large sums of money to that end..). It took several years for the forecast community to start heavily using QS data (they were justifiably nervous about depending on an experimental satellite that was never intended to run this long...)

QS is actually operated by LASP in Colorado.

No point. (4, Funny)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535235)

There's no point in putting up a replacement for the failing satellite...after all, the Rapture will be here soon enough, and whoever's left deserves to be surprised by the weather.

</snark>

Technology moves fast now (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535487)

Why not wait for the satellite to fail, and then begin work on replacing it with the latest available technology? And who designes a satellite with a 6 year life span? We can do better than that.

well, here's a solution! (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535535)

Interesting how our government is worried about scientific satellites going well past their "designed lifetime,..." Isn't there another project [nasa.gov] that went (and is still going) well past it's designed lifetime. Maybe they ought to let the Mars Rover team design the next hurricane satellite?

Re:well, here's a solution! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535933)

Uhh.. the same people at JPL designed both (not just that both were at JPL.. a lot of the exact same people worked on both Seawinds/Quikscat and MER). Design life is a funny thing.. it has to do with required margins on things like radiation effects, parts aging, and so forth. Rarely would a piece of space hardware fail at the design life.

In the case of QuikSCAT, it's probably the electronics in the "bus" (the actual spacecraft that carries the instrument) that are getting old. (the actual instrument was designed for a 5-7 year life) They're being bombarded by radiation all the time, and eventually, it will stop working (not as big a problem on Mars as in Earth LEO). You pays your money and you takes your chances... It's a dollar thing.. Comsats up in the Clarke Orbit last 15-20 years or more, but also cost a billion dollars. QuikSCAT was a lot less.

Rack Up Another Win For The Bush Administration (4, Insightful)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19535575)

There must not have been a contractor willing to line pockets thick enough to get this job done.

Seriously, this administration is letting everything essential rot on the vine while they push war, war, war.

BushCo just does not understand that when the decision is made to "go", it will be years before another satellite can be put in place. They are compromising safety, lives, and disaster response.

It's sad. Very sad.

Re:Rack Up Another Win For The Bush Administration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19536101)

He may understand. He just doesn't care about American lives.

insightful? give me a break! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19536247)

looks like /. has really devolved here if the parent gets modded to insightful...

the good news is that this gives me lots of hope for roping in more victims as a grifter!

Does the US ever do something with maintenance? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19535941)

After seeing the Discovery report on the way the Pentagon was treated this kind of news really doesn't surprise me at all. For those of you unknown to this information: the news that the Pentagon was in a miserable state at some point and in fact breaking every state law there was with regards to safety and maintenance. Cellars flooding, water pipes eroding, etc, etc. To me the US sometimes looks like the Zentradi to me. The war hungry alien race (Robotech saga) which can do a lot exept manage to actually repair their own stuff.

Look at the shuttle.. Its an obsolete design but almost 20 years (if not more) after date its still the same flying bucket of bolts. Not even the heatshield has been replaced with something else. Please spare me the whine about NASA not getting any budget. If they'd been talking to European or Japanese companies they could have gotten the belly of the shuttle coated with a solution which would have done the same job as the tiles without falling off for the same price they'd now take for using the tile structure.

All in all; its just the US way. Once you got some working plan you stick with it for the next years to come and stop focussing on how you might be able to improve things. This is just another example... I mean; anyone could have foreseen the sattelite from going somewhere...

Re:Does the US ever do something with maintenance? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 7 years ago | (#19536201)

The shuttle and other manned systems have too slow a development cycle due to the provision for putting Meat in space.
We have eternity to put men in space, so we should first perfect the processes we need to explore and exploit space with robots and supporting systems. We shouldn't NEED people to do anything but be passengers whe we get it right.

Tough PR problem with an easy solution (4, Funny)

golodh (893453) | more than 7 years ago | (#19536113)

Really ... hurricanes claim billions of dollars in damage annually and hundreds of lives (see http://marine.usgs.gov/fact-sheets/nat_disasters [usgs.gov] }.

Now the real problem is ... you can't really address the problem by shooting at something. So that makes it a downright un-American issue.

Now here's what to do about it.

First of all the NOAA has to be brought under the Department of Home Security because that's where the money is nowadays. Secondly, submit a {sizeable} donation to to e.g. the Cato institute or an equivalent, and have them bring together a posse of "intelligence experts", who go on record as being "worried" that hurricanes may be caused by Al-Quaeda, or that Al-Quaeda is somehow taking advantage of them. PR campaigns in the media are optional, but be sure to work the lobby circuit.

Then introduce the number of tracked hurricanes as a DOH success metric. That's important because it's a measurable and *achievable* goal.

Now you've created a win-win situation! The DOH gets a clearly visible and achievable success metric [they haven't got all that many of those], and the NOAA gets the funding to track hurricanes in every part of the globe. Problem solved.

Congressmen Support "Kick Back Retirement" (2, Insightful)

BoRegardless (721219) | more than 7 years ago | (#19536121)

Which of course means delaying action by many decades on ESSENTIAL critical infrastructure items:

1. 50 years of discussion of the insolvency of Social Security from an actuarial point were and are valid.

2. 50 years of illegal migrants after the bracero program in California, and it & border security is still not solved

3. 35 years of oil supply crisis issues, and still there is not a single interim or long term program from congress

4. 20 years of pulling down the military in various ways has to be looked at from the perspective of the bad guys who change and hide and subvert and move from country to country: The U.S. must remain vigilant and up to date in peace time.

5. The constitution basically said the Federal Government should protect borders, commerce and currency and leave other issue to the states, and Congress is arguably not doing so good on a lot of these accounts (Mexico, foreign spying, China for a start resp.).
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