Heavy Weather on High

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 30, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Heavy Weather on High


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A gigantic blast of scorching gas from the sun crashed into the Earth's magnetic field yesterday. While static touched a few television programs, larger disruptions were averted, thanks to the advanced forecast of the flare supplied by the Space Environment Center (SEC).

The SEC forecast yesterday's storm almost a full day before it hit. That alert allowed power-grid operators to prepare for potential disruptions; communications satellites to shut down nonessential functions; and astronauts aboard the International Space Station to take shelter. That is the SEC's mission - to monitor the sun's weather and issue forecasts and alerts about potentially disruptive solar events.

However, the SEC might not be making such forecasts in the future, thanks to shortsighted cuts in the Commerce, Justice and State (CJS) appropriations bill currently being considered by Congress. The administration requested $8 million for the SEC (which, as a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is funded through the Commerce Department), but the House bill allocates the SEC the same $5.2 million in funding it received last year. The Senate bill zeroed SEC funding out, with the recommendation that either NASA or the Air Force assume those duties.

As a consequence, the House Science Committee is holding a hearing today to investigate the funding of the SEC and the future of space weather forecasting.

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