NOAA – Keeping the nation’s eye on oceans, atmosphere and, yes, the weather!

Since its founding in 1970 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) (http://www.noaa.gov) has been the dynamic backbone of the nation’s massive system of timely and precise weather, water and climate forecasts, environmental monitoring, management of fisheries and coastlines, safe navigation and oceanic changes.  Today the vigilant eye of NOAA staffers is focused more than ever on climate change.

Americans may recognize and definitely depend on NOAA as the omniscient source of the weather warnings that blast over the airwaves or quietly tweet on their smart phones.  All of that data  comes from federal employees at NOAA  who, aided by the latest satellite and other high tech equipment, sound the alarm about deadly storms, wildfires, volcanic ash, and oil spills, not to mention blizzards and dangerous arctic temps.

Though weather forecasting is perhaps the most visible of NOAA’s resources, the National Weather Service is the tip of the NOAA iceberg (so to speak).  The record-keeping, regulatory and conservation work of NOAA has deep roots and famous pioneers.  Thomas Jefferson established the first science agency, the Survey of the Coast, which morphed into the Coast and Geodetic Survey.   (CGS)  Today, aviation safety depends heavily on the work of the CGS.   CGS has introduced electronic nautical charts which, together with GPS, have enhanced the safety and efficiency of navigation on the nation’s waterways.  NGS is also the nation’s principal advocate for coastal and ocean management.   CGS is responsible for the nation’s underwater parks, sanctuaries to breeding, preservations of history shipwrecks and protection of reef colonies.

The nation’s first federal conservation agency, initiated in 1871 to “protect, study, manage and restore fish” was home to the first marine fisheries research lab in the nation; it is still one of NOAA’s five fisheries science centers.

The organizational evolution of the National Weather Service as a component of NOAA says a lot about our nation’s history.  Again it was Thomas Jefferson who began the practice of meticulous collecting weather-related information.  He tracked weather conditions from as far West as the Mississippi and as far North as Quebec.

It was President Ulysses S. Grant who signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing establishment of the NWS in 1870.  The assignment went to the Secretary of War because “military discipline would probably secure the greatest promptness, regularity and accuracy of the weather observations.”  Within the Department of War, the NWS was assigned to the Signal Corps where it was christened the Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce.

In 1890 the US Department of Agriculture created the Weather Bureau climate and crops services which began publishing the Weather and Crops Weekly Bulletin which is still published today.  Much later, in 1970 a mix of federal weather and climate functions were consolidated into the National Weather Service and placed under the new NOAA.

On the behemoth organizational chart of the U.S. Government NOAA falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Every state has its own diverse and distributed network of National Weather Service activities, each with its own focus – weather, coastline, fisheries, climate and more. The quantity and quality of data emanating from these work stations must be explored to be appreciated.   It’s all on the web including a map and listing of each state’s weather report communications system.  (http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=mpx&product=rwr&issuedby=MN)

Today climate change tops the list of issues on NOAA’s global agenda.  Just last week Secretary of State John Kerry released the U.S. Climate Action Report 2014. The 310 page report details actions the United States will take domestically and internationally to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. It also outlines the President’s Climate Action Plan (http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/image/president27sclimateactionplan.pdf) which includes cutting carbon pollution from power plants, doubling renewable electricity generated from wind and solar by 2020, and increasing clean energy research funding by $7.9 billion.

This is all heady stuff.  Minnesota readers may be more interested in what’s happening on the weather front this week closer to home.  Here’s how local meteorologist Paul Douglas uses NOAA information to explain the frigid facts: http://www.startribune.com/blogs/238741671.html

There’s even a fun Young Meterologist Program (http://www.youngmeteorologist.org) that features a storm preparedness game– I played the winter storm game and picked up some crucial survival tips.

The NOAA website and the websites of all of the NOAA agencies and programs, only a few of which are mentioned here, are open to scientists, politicians, corporations, nonprofits, scholars and  citizens with an interest or need to know about the ever-changing global atmospheric and oceanic environment.

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