The product of intense negotiations between legislators from inland agricultural states and coastal states, the act is the most sweeping federal weather legislation to be enacted since the early 1990s.
On March 4, 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan.
The legislation reauthorizes and modernizes weather research and forecast programs and tsunami detection, warning, research and mitigation programs that are operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates within the Commerce Department.
“It demonstrates there is still an ability to work in a bipartisan way for the good of the country,” said Andy Winer, chief of staff to Schatz, a Democrat who spent three years working on the bill. “This is a really good piece of legislation. It’s going to save lives, give businesses and farmers more information to better plan, and also provide emergency managers with better information to respond to natural disasters.”
It will also provide scholars with better data to track the changing climate.
Schatz worked with a bipartisan group of legislators in crafting the bill, which was revised over about five years. He joined with senators from agricultural states, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, and a trio of Republican congressmen from the tornado belt who wanted to find better ways to protect their citizens and businesses from natural disasters. Delegates from coastal regions, meanwhile, were looking for better monitoring systems to predict tsunamis and hurricanes.
The measure was sponsored in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma. Another co-sponsor was U.S. Rep. Aumea Amata Coleman Radewagen of American Samoa, also a Republican.
The tsunami detection provisions fall under Title V of the legislation. It provides for modernizing the nation’s Tsunami Warning System, improving and updating tsunami maps and conducting research into how best to help coastal communities respond to dangers.
The goal of the weather forecasting provisions is to extend the time frame for predicting atmospheric changes. Instead of being able to predict the weather two weeks in advance, for example, it might be possible to predict the weather months or even years in advance.
Hurricane Lester near Hawaii on Aug. 31.
NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/NOAA
Scientists applauded the bill’s passage.
“This landmark legislation will save lives and property while providing business leaders with critical intelligence,” said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, in a statement.
“The bill will help provide the country with better climate data so we can plan,” said Winer, who worked at NOAA from 2009 to 2012.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the bill would permit NOAA’s data to be sold to private companies.
The bill will also permit private companies to sell atmospheric data to NOAA. Winer said it was a trade-off with Republicans in exchange for ensuring the data purchased would also be made available to academics and the public.
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