Keep Uncle Sam in the weather business

A government-sponsored study recommends the administration curtail the US Weather Service. Some 90 percent of the weather stations would be closed. Many services to business and farmers would be canceled. The popular weather radio - a service to which anyone can tune at any time for local weather information - would be dropped.

This is going too far. When the administration proposed selling weather and Earth resource satellites to private industry, we could accept that it was at least worthwhile to study the proposal to see if true economies and more efficient service might result. The government would still be supplied with the data needed for the Weather Service. But the curtailments now suggested for the Weather Service itself seem unwise in principle.

The study was conducted by the firm of Booz Allen for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA expects to take a year to evaluate it.

The aim, says NOAA, is to determine what role the government should play in providing weather services within the constraints of a limited budget. The study suggests that role might be restricted to severe storm warnings and weather forecasts for the general public. Farmers, aviators, sailors, and business people would have to pay private companies for vital services now taken for granted. This assumes the market for such services as frost warnings, marine advisories, and the like would be profitable enough for private meteorologists to supply them.

It seems unlikely that a patchwork of private weather companies could supply anything like the integrated and highly useful menu of services now provided by the Weather Service.

Loss of the weather radio would be especially sad. Now anyone can buy a cheap receiver to use this service. It is hard to reconcile the suggestion to cancel the service with the perception that the government should be issuing severe storm warnings. The weather radio is a primary channel for such alerts. Indeed, many receivers will sound an alarm, triggered by local weather stations, when threatening weather approaches.

Reducing the present 269 weather stations to a mere 25 to 50, as suggested, also seems a foolish measure. Weather is a local matter. National weather patterns do indeed govern weather in general, but local effects often are determined by the terrain and other such specific conditions. Local stations with meteorologists familiar with local weather still are needed if the public interest is to be adequately served.

Congress has already blocked any sale of weather satellites without its consent. It should likewise ensure that the integrity of the Weather Service itself is maintained while NOAA analyzes the Booz Allen report for whatever constructive comment it may contain.

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