Weather Watch

Federal shutdown affects weather agencies

Unrepaired marine weather buoys can increase chances of inaccurate forecasts

Special to The TribuneOctober 5, 2013 

The SE Papa Buoy went adrift earlier this year.

COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION

Effects of the federal government shutdown have extended to weather-related agencies.

The National Weather Service will continue to operate through the ongoing shutdown. Last week about 4,000 weather service employees were excepted from the shutdown to support its mission of protecting life and property. They will continue to issue forecasts and warnings 24-7.

The employees don’t know when their next paycheck will arrive, however.

Many of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web sites may not be available.

For example, if you visit the National Data Buoy Center webpage, you may get an unavailable message. The government sequester combined with the shutdown not only is affecting their websites, but more importantly, also having an impact on marine buoy preventative maintenance, repair and replacement.

The loss of the marine buoys can complicate a forecaster’s job. You see, at our latitude, storms generally move from west to east, directed primarily by the jet stream over the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean. As these storms move in from the sea, the NOAA marine offshore buoy network provides invaluable weather and ocean wave data. These offshore buoys are stationed about 500 miles or more off the coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington and act as long-range sentinels.

Two key buoys off the Northern California coastline are currently inoperative: The California marine buoy No. 59, stationed about 357 nautical miles west of San Francisco and the SE Papa marine buoy No. 06, moored about 600 nautical miles west of Eureka at a water depth of more than 13,000 feet.

The California marine buoy went adrift in May 2012 and was recovered in June 2012. The SE Papa marine buoy went adrift in January of this year and still has not been recovered. 

The National Data Buoy Center has deferred annual maintenance for buoys until further notice. They hope to resume maintenance of the marine buoys next year, pending adequate funding in the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Without these buoys, little weather or wave data is available from that region, and weather forecasters such as me, can only hope for a ship report to clarify the situation. The weather satellites currently in service can transmit some weather data, but they cannot give you atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction or wave data.

While ship reports are tremendously beneficial, this information is received every six hours. The buoys report hourly and with weather an hour or two can often be the difference between an accurate and inaccurate forecast.

Land stewardship is important to PG&E. The company manages 12,820 acres that surround Diablo Canyon Power Plant. This has allowed for coastal hiking trails open to public use, including the Pecho Coast Trail that leads to the restored Point San Luis Lighthouse. To learn more about these preserved lands, visit www.pge.com.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a media relations representative for PG&E and a longtime local meteorologist. He is president of the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers. If you have a question, send him an email at pgeweather@pge.com.

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