Trump Reportedly Wants to Slash NOAA's Hurricane-Tracking Satellite Program

For now, Donald Trump can dismiss New York Times reports about his incompetence as "fake" and get away with it, because without knowing who's leaking White House information, Americans will always have a sliver of doubt about whether Trump's administration can really have become such a deranged Tilt-a-Whirl.

But soon enough, his massive budget cuts will hurt real people, and it will be impossible to shrug off that news. And it appears Miami might be right in the crosshairs of one of his worst plans.

According to a memo the Washington Post obtained last week, Trump is proposing steep cuts to the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which tracks the effects of climate change and helps the nation track and prepare for major weather catastrophes. According to a four-page memo the Post obtained, Trump wants to slash funding by $126 million — a towering 26 percent of the agency's budget.

As any seasoned Miamian knows, NOAA operates both the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Service, the latter of which is based at Florida International University. According to the Post, the NWS itself is slated for a 5 percent cut under Trump's first proposed budget. (NOAA is, for some reason, under the purview of the U.S. Department of Commerce.)

The biggest cut, however, is aimed squarely at NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS), the agency's main weather-satellite division. Political analysts say the cuts look like an act of revenge: The NESDIS is one of NOAA's major wings studying climate-change and has published studies showing that the effects of climate change are accelerating, which has enraged some Republicans.

In response, Trump wants to rip money away from the organization — apparently with little regard as to how those cuts would affect cities like Miami when the next major tropical storm boils up. Sure, other agencies around the world study tropical cyclones, but NOAA's satellite division remains a gold standard when it comes to hurricane preparedness.

Cutting funding from the division would disregard the safety of people living in hurricane-prone areas such as Miami.
According to NOAA's website, NESDIS satellites pull in 20 terabytes of data per day while scanning the globe. NOAA says NESDIS satellites were vital in tracking the path of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest and deadliest hurricane in American history. The NESDIS has since launched a new satellite, GOES-R, that can take full storm photographs every 30 seconds, "significantly improving hurricane forecasting and tracking and providing longer watch and warning lead times for areas in harm's way," NOAA says.

Last year's Hurricane Matthew debacle shows that NESDIS satellites are vital: Even with the most advanced technology known to humankind, forecasters still weren't able to accurately plot the storm's path until the hurricane made landfall around Jacksonville. If anything, Matthew's story shows that NOAA needs more funding, not less, to study hurricanes.

But such is the case for Trump's science-denying administration. NOAA is simply in the business of tracking weather and climate data. And in 2017, tracking the weather also means tracking climate change. You cannot do one without the other, but it appears the Trump administration has chosen to find this out the hard way.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.