Every two years the Government Accountability Office highlights the top 30 challenges facing the Federal government on its “high risk list”. A looming gap in the coverage of weather satellites and climate change are the newest additions to this list says the GAO in a report released Thursday.

The satellite risk

Polar-orbiting satellites scan the globe in pole-to-pole loops and feed important data into models for weather forecasting. But a gap in their coverage is possible starting as soon as 2014 and could last 17 to 53 months.

A possible gap in the coverage of polar orbiting satellite, between the end of the expected lifetime of the NPP satellite and the start of the JPSS satellite, is shown. (GAO, adapted by CWG)

The potential gap has arisen from mismanagement, billions of dollars in cost overruns, and technical development challenges within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration (NOAA).

NOAA has acknowledged the polar satellite gap could negatively impact weather forecasts and warnings, and sought public comment on options for overcoming the possible data deficit.

Video overview of satellite risk from GAO

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

The GAO report also expresses concern about NOAA’s geostationary satellites which provide continuous views of weather systems affecting the U.S. Should one of the two operational geostationary satellites fail beginning in April 2015, there may be no back-up the report says.

“A number of decisions are needed to ensure contingency and continuity plans [for the satellites] can be implemented effectively,” the GAO concludes.

The climate change risk

Noting disaster declarations have increased in recent years, and recognizing the build-up of greenhouse gases will alter the climate for decades into the future, the GAO report finds “[c]limate change creates significant financial risks for the federal government.” It highlights vulnerabilities in Federal infrastructure and costs that may be incurred due to more extreme weather.

Video overview of climate change risk from GAO

“The federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change, and needs a government wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks,” the GAO report concludes.

Related: Climate change could burn a hole in the government’s finances, GAO says

The possible satellite gap and climate change take the place of “management of interagency contracting” and “IRS business systems modernization” on GAO’s high risk list due to progress in the latter two areas.

GAO’s stated purpose for maintaining the list is “to focus attention on government operations that it identifies as high risk due to their greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges”