Budget battle sinks weather buoys

Weather forecasters around the U.S. will soon be without 30 existing monitoring stations as the National Weather Service tightens its budget. Because 29 of the 30 stations are coastal buoys, marine forecasts are expected to be the most affected by the move.

In Portland, Maine, a buoy that is positioned three miles from the harbor entrance, and the only buoy along the northern New England coast that reports wave conditions, is one of the buoys to lose funding. Local forecasters have expressed concern over the loss of the buoy.

"We use the information from that buoy to verify and update our marine forecasts," said Al Wheeler, meteorologist in charge at the NWS forecast office in Gray, Maine. "It’s the only source of hourly wave information along the entire coast."

Funding for the 30 stations was temporary from the beginning, according to Doug Scally of the National Buoy Data Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss. The stations were installed two years ago to record weather conditions until a satellite could take their place. The NOAA GOES-K satellite, launched on April 25, serves as a backup to GOES-8 and -9, which report surface sea conditions for the East and West coasts, respectively.

Satellites, however, while effectively monitoring wind conditions, don’t have the detailed accuracy to report on actual wave height and interval. "You can figure out what wave conditions will be if you know the wind speed, but satellite reports are not as specific. Buoy data is the ground truth of what the satellite reports," Scally said.

Before weather buoys and satellites, wind and wave conditions were reported by manned lightships stationed offshore.

By Ocean Navigator