Alabama’s Entire GOP Delegation Voted to Slash Tornado Forecasting

The images from last week’s storms that ripped through the southern states of America are unbelievable. They seem like fantasies from a Hollywood disaster blockbuster, not scenes from a technology-rich world that is able to warn its citizens far in advance of any natural calamity.

And yet, this is 2011, and over 300 hundred people did not have enough time to get out of the path of these tornadoes – they died.

Indeed, the Associated Press said that this “seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.”

And this week, Climate Progress is calling the Senate – and the entire GOP delegation from Alabama –  to task for slashing the budget for such “pinpoint satellite forecasts” that act as early warning systems to communities across America.

In fact, these budgets cuts would halve the accuracy of nationwide storm forecasting – in an era where extreme weather is happening with freakish normality.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has stated in no uncertain terms that these aging satellites will fail, and our failure to buy new ones this year will cause at least an 18 month gap in coverage.

Clearly, Congressional Republicans were more interested in protecting the $5.5 billion in subsidies and foregone royalty payments for Big Oil—which collectively reported a total of more than $30 billion in first quarter profits this week—than they were in spending the $700 million necessary to literally save the lives of their constituents.

This week’s news stories about these disasters are full of harrowing accounts of narrow escapes made possible by timely, accurate forecasting that provided nearly half an hour’s advance warning that these massive tornadoes were on the way. And still, at least 340 people have been killed and countless others injured.

“It is sobering to us to see that tornadoes in the 21st century can still cause so many deaths,” said Joshua Wurman, the president of the Center for Severe Weather Research. “We had hoped that through increased warnings, better buildings and increased public awareness, the years of these events had passed.”

We now know that the events themselves have not passed—on the contrary, it is more likely that these events will only continue to grow more intense and more frequent. Apparently, the only thing that has passed is our willingness to pay the cost of the accurate predictions that saved innumerable lives across the south earlier this week.

An 18 month gap in coverage?!?!

Perhaps the Alabama delegation will talk some sense into their Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives after this disaster. Sure, it’s easy to cut spending for the things that you only need every once in awhile – but when we need these things, they are life-and-death essentials. Why do we pay taxes? To feel protected. Cutting funding for satellites that allow us to use technology to save lives is ridiculous, and typical of short-sighted, election-cycle based thinking.

Cut subsidies to oil companies, and use the money that these profit hounds should be paying to the government to KEEP US SAFE!

  • Nicole Youngman

    I’m a disaster sociologist in New Orleans–while warning times are absolutely crucial in tornadoes, please understand that many of these deaths very likely occurred because the victims had no underground shelter that they could get to in time. As long as building codes allow slab-on-grade housing without basements, trailer parks with no tornado shelters on the property, and minimal wind/tree impact resistance, we are going to continue to see these deaths in EF4-5 twister outbreaks.

  • @facebook-100001029378646:disqus is exactly right. Warning times are crucial to saving lives, but all the warning time in the world isn’t going to help you when there are no cellars, basements, shelters, or interior rooms inside of fortified buildings for people to take cover in during a storm.

    I agree that funding for early warning systems should not be cut. (Incidentally an early warning is still only minutes.) However, insinuating that storms such as these are happening more often is just sensationalism. There aren’t more deadly tornadoes now than there were 50 years ago. According to this chart there were more F5 tornadoes in 1953 than in any year since.

    I’m not sure how it is in the south, but where I’ve lived in tornado
    alley people don’t usually take as much caution as they should. The
    sirens go off, we know there’s a tornado in the area, but people don’t
    always rush to get to shelter or take the proper precautions. I think
    you get so used to tornado warnings during the springtime that don’t
    amount to anything that you assume ANY tornado that comes your way is
    likely going to be the same as the last one. No big deal. Not much to
    worry about. You never think the big one is going to hit by you. No one
    ever thinks it’s the big one until it’s too late. It’s a deadly mistake,
    but we easily become apathetic and desensitized to warnings.