House Science Committee Approves Weather Service Legislation

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Publication date: 
19 December 2013

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee easily approved two important weather bills during a quick mark-up session on December 5.  In contrast to other committee markups that have reflected significant partisan differences, Republican and Democratic members commented on the bipartisan nature of the negotiations regarding the bills, acknowledging important input from the weather community in the development of the legislation.

“H.R. 2413 makes the protection of lives and property the top priority of NOAA,” said Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) as he described the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act of 2013 which he introduced in June.  Bridenstine is the Vice Chairman of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment.  The subcommittee held two hearings on the weather research programs of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in May and June that included witnesses from private forecasting companies, universities, and William Gail, President-Elect of the American Meteorological Society (a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics.) 

House and Senate committees have shown a continuing interest in the nation’s weather forecasting system, as have organizations such as the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate that issued a 2012 report, Weather Services for the Nation: Becoming Second to None.  Among the report’s conclusions was the need for the National Weather Service (NWS) to prioritize its core capabilities, remain current with advances in atmospheric and hydrological sciences, and collaborate with private organizations providing weather services (what the report called the “weather, water, and climate enterprise.”)

H.R. 2413 responds to these and other recommendations for modernizing and coordinating various weather-related programs within NOAA (primarily the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; National Weather Service; and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.)  The committee unanimously agreed by voice vote to revise the original bill text with a 21-page bipartisan amendment offered by the Environment Subcommittee Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). 

Consistent with its public safety priority, the bill language states “The Assistant Administrator for OAR shall conduct a program to develop improved understanding of and forecast capabilities for atmospheric events and their impacts, placing priority on developing more accurate, timely, and effective warnings and forecasts of high impact weather events that endanger life and property.” The bill outlines a series of focused programs elements including “Research and development, and transfer of knowledge, technologies, and applications to the NWS and other appropriate agencies and entities, including the American weather industry and academic partners.”  There is additional bill language on a tornado warning improvement and extension program, a hurricane warning improvement program, a weather R&D program, observing system planning and simulations, computing resources, and commercial weather data.  Other provisions include a weather research and innovation advisory committee, federal interagency weather research and innovation coordination, a visiting OAR researchers program, and a program of visiting NWS fellows.

Following 25 minutes of discussion House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) called for a voice vote, approving H.R. 2413 with no dissenting votes.  Before doing so, Bonamici reiterated an earlier comment regarding the “core belief that weather should not be a partisan issue,” adding her hope that the bill would go quickly to the House floor and then to the Senate, stating “it is a bill we can move together.”

The committee then turned to H.R. 2431, the National Integrated Drought Information System Reauthorization Act of 2013 that was introduced by former House Science Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX).  “This is a bipartisan bill,” said Hall, explaining that the original 2006 law expired last year that established the National Integrated Drought Information System.  The new bill includes language that the system is “to better inform and provide for more timely decision making to reduce drought related impacts and costs,” and describes several information system functions. 

Of note, the committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) regarding ongoing research and monitoring activities with the addition of the words “including research activities relating to length, severity, and impacts of drought and the role of extreme weather events and climate variability in drought.”  Inclusion of this language brings the bill into agreement with a bill approved by a Senate committee. 

After a discussion about funding limits the committee approved this bill by voice vote.