First we had Republican Ron Paul questioning whether FEMA is necessary and now via the Fox News website here’s this piece asking whether we need a National Weather Service. I strongly feel that these kinds of stories and removing the “givens” that most mainstream Americans assumed where there to help is going to hurt the Republican Party with independent voters over the long run. Whoever thought we would see the day when we’d see something like this except in The Onion or a series of Andy Borowitz Tweets?
As Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast, news stations bombard our televisions with constant updates from the National Hurricane Center.
While Americans ought to prepare for the coming storm, federal dollars need not subsidize their preparations. Although it might sound outrageous, the truth is that the National Hurricane Center and its parent agency, the National Weather Service, are relics from America’s past that have actually outlived their usefulness.
The National Weather Service (NWS) was founded in 1870. Originally, the NWS was not a public information agency. It was a national security agency and placed under the Department of War. The Service’s national security function has long since disappeared, but as agencies often do, however, it stuck around and managed to increase its budget.
Today the NWS justifies itself on public interest grounds. It issues severe weather advisories and hijacks local radio and television stations to get the message out. It presumes that citizens do not pay attention to the weather and so it must force important, perhaps lifesaving, information upon them. A few seconds’ thought reveals how silly this is. The weather might be the subject people care most about on a daily basis. There is a very successful private TV channel dedicated to it, 24 hours a day, as well as any number of phone and PC apps. Americans need not be forced to turn over part of their earnings to support weather reporting.
The NWS claims that it supports industries like aviation and shipping, but if they provide a valuable contribution to business, it stands to reason business would willingly support their services. If that is the case, the Service is just corporate welfare. If they would not, it is just a waste.
Corporate welfare? This sounds as if George W. Bush, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan who didn’t point this out were enablers.
As for hurricanes, the insurance industry has a compelling interest in understanding
them. In a world without a National Weather Service, the insurance industry would probably have sponsored something very like the National Hurricane Center at one or more universities. Those replacements would also not be exploited for political purposes.
As it stands today, the public is forced to pay more than $1 billion per year for the NWS. With the federal deficit exceeding a trillion dollars, the NWS is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. It may actually be dangerous.
Read it in full. Yes, it is reasoned, it has an argument.
But the bottom line is: this is not simply “outrageous” but politically way out of the mainstream and if you asked most Americans about axing or cutting way back on the National Weather Service they would say: “You’ve got to be kidding!”
And if a Presidential candidate was asked about this and endorsed the idea they could kiss not just independent voters but many thoughtful Republicans good bye. But what does any of this matter when everything because a battle ground in a 24/7 ideological battle?
Steve Benen has an interesting reaction to this and some other storm related assertions:
The Fox News piece touts private outlets, including AccuWeather, without alerting readers to a key detail: these private outlets rely on information they receive from the National Weather Service. Indeed, the NWS makes this information available to the private sector for free, since the NWS is a public agency and the data it compiles is public information.
The Fox News item goes on to say, in reference to the Weather Service, “It issues severe weather advisories and hijacks local radio and television stations to get the message out. It presumes that citizens do not pay attention to the weather and so it must force important, perhaps lifesaving, information upon them.”
This is not, by the way, a parody.
Glenn Beck, meanwhile, told his radio audience on Friday that Hurricane Irene “a blessing. It is God reminding you — as was the earthquake last week — it’s God reminding you you’re not in control. Things can happen.”
This divine “blessing” has already killed at least eight people.
Dr. Ryan N. Maue writing on Watts Up with That in a post that needs to be read in full:
With the ongoing Hurricane Irene, let me discuss how these supposedly useless government funded forecasts are being used. First, in order to generate the best possible initial conditions for tropical storm track, and the entire weather model forecast, we need lots of data both in-situ (stations, balloons, aircraft), as well as satellite remote sensing. This is not only a nationwide effort but a truly global scale endeavor. If we do not know the initial conditions over China, our 5-day forecasts over the west coast would be considerably worse. Similarly, if the government funded reconnaissance flights from the military and NOAA did not fly through Irene or sample the environment around the storm, our track and intensity forecasts would be worse, a lot worse.
NOAA, the NWS, and the National Hurricane Center have coordinated for decades with universities and other government labs to develop the best possible data assimilation and mathematical modeling techniques. The national research and operations infrastructure developed, maintained, and advanced using government funding is truly something to be prideful about in America.
Suggesting that insurance companies or other private entities would have come up with this sort of infrastructure is fantastical and exhibits ignorance of the military-scale coordination necessary for the entire system to work. Since the private corporations are taxpayers as well, they are justified in making use of the government subsidized data network including satellites and supercomputer weather forecasts — and adding value for their particular sector of the economy. While food stamps and unemployment checks may be the best way for the Obama administration to stimulate the economy, I’d argue that providing the best forecasts, technology, and expertise in weather is one of the best fiscal multipliers out there aside from the threat of space alien attacks.
If given the choice between organizations such as Fox News who have a history of distorting the truth and lying versus scientists from the US government, who are you going to choose?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.