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Posted at 02:30 PM ET, 12/18/2012

The fiscal cliff and weather forecasts

Could falling off the fiscal cliff harm weather forecasts? The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) projects related budget cuts at NOAA and NASA would lead to thousands of lost jobs and jeopardize satellite systems critical to weather prediction.

The job losses, 20,500 tied to NASA and 2,500 to NOAA (for all aerospace activities), would stem from an 8.2 percent “sequestration” cut across the two agencies mandated under the Budget Control Act of 2011 according to the AIA report released last week.

Related: The Fiscal Cliff and spending cuts (Wonk Blog)

One thousand jobs supporting NOAA’s weather satellite programs in the public and private sectors would be lost, the AIA report predicts.

(At NASA, the lost jobs would occur exclusively in the private sector as civil servant work force reductions are prohibitied through the 2013 fiscal year.)

As it stands, NOAA’s weather satellite programs face major challenges. Resulting from delays in NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), a gap in polar-orbiting weather satellite coverage is a strong possibility around 2017. This gap could degrade weather forecasts.

Related: Without polar satellites, forecast for Superstorm Sandy would have suffered European analysis finds

Last month, NOAA opened public comment (closes 12/19) on “how to preserve the quality and timeliness of NOAA’s numerical weather forecasts” given the likelihood of such a gap.

Significant budget cuts and loss of support personnel and contractors could exacerbate the challenges satellite programs face, and lead to longer gaps in satellite coverage.

“The 8.2 percent cut would result in the loss of more than $154 million to an already extremely tight, developmental budget for the replacement weather satellites, threatening to extend a gap in polar orbiting weather satellite coverage expected to begin in 2017,” the AIA report states.

If NOAA did not cut satellite programs under the 8.2 percent cut scenario, other parts of the agency - like the National Weather Service - would face the prospect of large cuts.

Related: National Weather Service budget cuts misguided, misplaced

AIA warns sequestration cuts would continue for 8 years beyond the 2013 fiscal year and that it “could take decades to recover from them.”

Although sequestration effects at NOAA and NASA would be profound, the think-tank Brookings cautioned the kind of detailed job projections provided by AIA should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Such amazingly specific predictions are actually based on very crude and sometime erroneous assumptions and calculations,” Brookings wrote in response to an AIA report from July on the potentially major consequences of sequestration on defense jobs.

President Obama and House Speak John A. Boehner are reportedly closer to a deal which would undo the relevant parts of the Budget Control Act mandating the 8.3 percent cuts, but might be replaced by alternative discretionary cuts in negotiations.

By  |  02:30 PM ET, 12/18/2012

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