Whither the weather forecasters?

What's The Deal

December 28, 2008|By MICHELLE DEAL-ZIMMERMAN | MICHELLE DEAL-ZIMMERMAN,michelle.deal@baltsun.com

The weather last week just did not cooperate for holiday travelers. Delays. Cancellations. And the worst - an accident in Denver last weekend that left a Continental Airlines jet on fire and in pieces, and injured nearly 40 passengers. Judging from the photos of the charred fuselage, the passengers were lucky to be alive.

Few cities were left unscathed by the winter storms. Seattle had it bad. So did Chicago and New York. And Phoenix. With turbulent conditions like these, even Santa might have had a tough time taking off.

Considering the recent problems, it seems an odd time for the Federal Aviation Administration to be booting weather forecasters from the nation's air traffic control centers. But as the Associated Press reported last week, the FAA wants to save money by providing forecasts from a distance, perhaps via teleconference or e-mail, rather than face-to-face as happens now.

Currently, there are at least four National Weather Service meteorologists at each of the 21 regional air traffic control centers under an agreement in effect since 1978. The forecasters are able to interact directly with controllers to give up-to-the-minute information on changing weather conditions. But under the proposed plan, two weather units, one in College Park and another in Kansas City, Mo., would provide weather information for all of the flight centers. Meteorologists would be relocated or reassigned. Centralizing the forecasts could save the FAA an estimated $4 million, those familiar with the program say.

I say, what's the cost of passenger safety? Saving money rarely saves lives.

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