House votes to refocus government weather forecasting efforts

The House passed legislation on Tuesday that would reprioritize the work of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on weather prediction, in order to help save lives and property threatened by severe storms.

Members passed the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act, H.R. 2413, in an easy voice vote.

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The bill was originally envisioned by Republicans as one that would limit NOAA's ability to engage in any work on climate change. But at the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the bill was amended to clarify that the bill only deals with NOAA's weather prediction functions, and doesn't affect ocean or atmospheric research.

Those changes allowed Democrats to support the bill, and agree that improved weather forecasting would help save lives and billions of dollars in property.

"I can assure members on both sides of the aisle that weather research is strengthened in this bill, but not at the expense of other important work at NOAA," said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee on the environment.

Among other things, the bill would encourage cooperation between NOAA and the National Weather Service, and allows for input from researchers and businesses to improve weather research.

Other supporters said these changes are needed to help restore U.S. leadership on weather prediction.

"Our leadership has slipped in severe weather forecasting," said Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas). "European weather models routinely predict America's weather better than we can."

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), said the measure is a response to a tornado in his home state last year that killed 24 people, and for which people received a 15-minute warning.

"America can do better than 15 minutes," he said, noting that the bill reprioritizes NOAA's work on weather research without adding anything to total NOAA funding.

Later in the day, the House passed four other suspension bills by voice vote:

— H.R. 4005, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act, authorizing appropriations for the Coast Guard in 2015 and 2016.

— H.Con.Res. 92, allowing the Capitol Grounds to be used for the National Peace Officers Memorial Service.

— H.Con.Res. 88, allowing the Capitol Grounds to be used for the Greater Washington Soap Box Derby.

— S. 1557, the Children's Hospital GME Support Reauthorization Act, which reauthorizes medical education programs at children's hospitals.

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