Weather prediction devices and storm warning systems, the kind that do save lives in the event of something catastrophic like a tornado or tsunami or earthquake or flooding (not that the planet has experienced any of those things this year), are an easy target for budget-cut hawks.
The rationalization goes something like: These anomalous weather events don’t happen that often, and are so unexpected anyway, that you can’t really predict them. Hence, the prediction and warning systems are really just a waste of money.
Except that when a disaster does happen, these prediction and warning systems are one of the few things that can lead to lives saved. They are like the fire department. Sure, maybe a few days a week it seems like they do nothing, but when they do their job it’s a good and necessary thing.
Now, amazingly, we learn that in the recent round of Federal budget talks, Congress — including every GOP member of Alabama’s delegation — decided to “eliminated funding to replace the environmental satellites that help make our forecasts a reality.”
Those forecasts, incidentally, would only cost about $700 million, but were recently proven necessary by the devastating storms in the south.
This week’s news stories about these disasters are full of harrowing accounts of narrow escapes made possible by timely, accurate forecasting that provided nearly half an hour’s advance warning that these massive tornadoes were on the way. And still, at least 340 people have been killed and countless others injured.
“It is sobering to us to see that tornadoes in the 21st century can still cause so many deaths,” said Joshua Wurman, the president of the Center for Severe Weather Research. “We had hoped that through increased warnings, better buildings and increased public awareness, the years of these events had passed.”
We now know that the events themselves have not passed—on the contrary, it is more likely that these events will only continue to grow more intense and more frequent. Apparently, the only thing that has passed is our willingness to pay the cost of the accurate predictions that saved innumerable lives across the south earlier this week.
It’s not really a surprise, because, again, these types of expenditures are an easy target. But their elimination also makes the safety and lives of citizens easy targets for fast-developing and dangerous storm systems.
Wonder if the Alabama GOP members will be changing their tune on this one in light of recent events.