New Law Stokes Controversy Over Forecasting, Climate Change

Thursday, April 20th 2017, 10:20 pm
By: Grant Hermes

A new law that rearranges funding at the nation’s top meteorological agency signed by President Donald Trump this week is causing controversy among climate scientists.

Authored by Oklahoma representatives Frank Lucas (R) and Jim Bridentstine (R), the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act funds improvements in forecasting and warning times during severe weather, both are seen as critical developments for saving lives during storms.

In recent years, U.S. forecasting has been criticized for shortcomings in its ability to predict extreme weather.

“Every year the loss of life from deadly tornadoes in my home state are a stark reminder that we can do better,” Lucas said during floor debate of the bill before it was signed.

The law also being praised by state insurance commissioner John Doak says in a statement, "When it comes to surviving a tornado, every second counts. I have no doubt this bill will save both lives and property."

But the law’s passage wasn’t met entirely with blue skies. Shuffling NOAA's funding means taking money away from climate change research, including studies assessing the link between climate change and extreme weather. The law has scientists and advocates worried.

“It should be a concern to all of us. It does represent a serious threat,” Rev. James Stovall said about the reality of climate change, which 97 percent of scientists agree is occurring likely because of human activity.

Rev. James Stovall works with the Oklahoma Conference of Churches’ Committee on Climate Change and said defunding research could have dire consequences.

“It's kind of like Thelma and Louise heading for the cliff and now if we restrict research into climate change it's kind of like we're putting blinders on ourselves,” Stovall said.

The law’s signing comes just weeks after President Trump proposed cutting 17 percent of the NOAA budget, which left climate scientists alarmed. In its 2017 budget request, NOAA asked for just over $30 million for climate change research and nearly $40 million in forecasting funding, with just $16 million being allotted to the National Weather Service.