Friday, March 7, 2014

Aging El Nino buoys get fixed as weather forecasts at risk

Brian K. Sullvian at Bloomberg News: The National Weather Service is set to start repairing 70 towering buoys used to track El Nino and La Nina patterns, whose damage has led scientists to warn the accuracy of forecasts is in danger.

The Tropical Atmospheric Ocean Array, deployed after a 1982-83 ocean warming caught governments by surprise and caused at least $8.1 billion in damage worldwide, is designed to help predict developments that can alter global weather. The system has degraded to about 40 percent effectiveness, a victim of age, vandalism and neglect, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.

“Having this array in place may give us a few more months extra lead time that otherwise would not occur,” said Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist in the climate analysis section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “It makes a difference as to what strategy many farmers have in terms of what crops they grow, what water irrigation strategies they use, what fertilizer.”

While maintaining and upgrading the buoys costs about $10 million annually, less than 1 percent of NOAA’s budget, government spending constraints in recent years have limited repairs, said Craig McLean, a deputy assistant administrator for programs and administration at the agency’s office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. The weather service’s 2014 budget “offers relief,” and maintenance will begin within the next two weeks, Susan Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the service, said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday.

...“We are hopeful that we will be able to restore the TAO array to near 80 percent by the end of this year,” she said.

From corn farmers in Iowa to oil-rig operators in the Gulf of Mexico to rubber growers in Indonesia, businesses depend on forecasts generated by data from the equipment. Without that information, there might be less time to prepare for droughts, wildfires, floods and storms, leading to more volatility in commodity prices and the potential for a greater loss of life....

NOAA photo of TAO Buoy Array deployment preparations on board the NOAA Ship GORDON GUNTER. United States, Gulf of Mexico. 2006 August 29.

No comments: