New Hurricane Center Chief Warns Of Less-Accurate Forecasts

Friday, March 16th 2007, 4:32 pm
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ Certain hurricane forecasts could become less accurate if a key weather satellite that is already beyond its expected life span fails, the nation's new top forecaster said Friday.

The change would mean placing longer stretches of coastline under warnings and asking more people to evacuate, National Hurricane Center Director Bill Proenza said.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Proenza also called for hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for expanded research and predictions.

Proenza, who took the post in January, said his immediate concerns include the so-called QuikScat weather satellite, which lets forecasters measure such basics as wind speed. Replacing it would take at least four years even if the estimated $400 million cost were available immediately, he said.

The satellite, designed to last five years, is in its seventh year of operation, Proenza said, and it is only a matter of time until it fails. He said he did not know of any plans to replace it.

Without its data, two-day forecasts could become 10 percent less accurate, and the three-day predictions could lose 16 percent accuracy, Proenza said.

Average track errors last year were about 100 miles on two-day forecasts and 150 miles on three-day predictions. Track errors have been cut in half over the past 15 years, but losing QuikScat could erode some of those gains, Proenza said.