This is a repost of a diary I posted exactly one year ago tomorrow, and it's as relevant as ever. The deadly floods, tornadoes, and storms we had this past year highlight the issue, and Santorum's rise in the polls (and potential high placement in Iowa) is concerning to me and should be concerning to every person in the United States. If you've ever questioned the effectiveness of the National Weather Service, just remember the April 27th tornado outbreak (or any of the other outbreaks we had in 2011). Nearly 500 tornado warnings were issued in a 24 hour period, and over 300 people died in the outbreak. Imagine how many thousands of people could have died this year had we been required to purchase tornado warning subscriptions from a private company like Accuweather or The Weather Channel.
Remember the poster boy for the GOP's failure in 2006, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)? If you don't, let me give you a refresher. He was elected to the US House in 1990, and to the US Senate in the GOP Wave in 1994. He served in the US Senate for 12 long, batshit crazy years until he had his ass handed to him in 2006. He lost his election to Bob Casey by an 18% margin -- 59% to 41% -- in the largest defeat of a sitting US Senator since 1980.
One of the more vile things he tried to do during his Congressional romp was to abolish the National Weather Service as we know it.
No, seriously. He was that fucked up.
In defending the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005, his argument was that the National Weather Service should no longer be allowed to provide the public with weather information (forecasts, observations, radar, etc.) because it unfairly competed with the private market. He didn't come out and say it, but his not-so-subtle goal was to put the public in harm's way by making Pennsylvania-based weather website and Santorum campaign contributor Accuweather the primary provider of weather information in the country.
I won't even touch the logic in his argument, but I will offer a few examples. Imagine if UPS said that it could no longer compete against USPS, and sought to have the mail system abolished. Imagine if a septic tank company said it could no longer compete against municipal sewer systems, and sought to have the systems disabled/removed to stop the unfair competition. Imagine if Virgin Galactic decided that NASA was unfairly competing with the private space industry, and sought to have the entire agency abolished.
That's what Rick Santorum tried to do to the National Weather Service. If you take one thing out of this diary, it's that the Republicans will stop at nothing to fuck you over to treat themselves to ice cream, even at the expense of the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
Do you think that this was an insignificant bill that should have passed? Hold the phone, pal. Do you know what the National Service does, exactly? The list is too long for me to put here, and I'll probably leave out most stuff anyway, but look at a few of the things they do:
Tasks of the National Weather Service and related agencies:
-Operate 122 Weather Forecast Offices across all 50 states (and Pureto Rico), with a full staff 24/7/365.
-Provide detailed forecasts to the public for every square mile of the United States. Forecasts are detailed down to hundreds of thousands of gridded points across the country.
-Provide aviation forecasts for the safety of all aircraft in United States airspace.
-Provide fire weather forecasts for those in regions vulnerable to forest/brush fires.
-Provide hydrologic forecasts for those with interests around rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans.
-Provide marine forecasts for anybody who takes sail on a boat in United States waters.
-Provide tropical forecasts via the National Hurricane Center for anyone in the path of a tropical storm/hurricane in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans.
-Provide climate forecasts and maintain climate data via the Climate Prediction Center
-Monitor the United States constantly for severe weather development via the Storm Prediction Center.
Within each of those general areas, they do hundreds (even thousands) of other smaller tasks that make our day-to-day lives livable.
Each dot represents a radar station maintained by the NWS
The NWS also maintains almost every radar station in the United States, which is vital from your kid's soccer game tonight to the safety of aircraft traffic.
I cannot fathom what our lives would be like if the National Weather Service did not exist. Most of the weather companies on the market steal their information from the National Weather Service anyway, so imagine them trying to take on the entire country's weather. It would be a nightmare.
In Rick Santorum's dreamland with no centralized government weather agency, every day would be a surprise...
This was Greensburg, Kansas. I say was because the town was literally obliterated from the face of the Earth the night of May 4, 2007. The Storm Prediction Center had issued a "high risk" for severe weather, including large, damaging tornadoes, for most of the midwest that day. A supercell thunderstorm developed that evening around 830PM, and quickly intensified thereafter and began to produce funnel clouds and eventually a tornado. The tornado touched down to the southwest of Greensburg, and continually strengthened. Storm chasers reported that the tornado grew to 1/2 mile wide, then 1 mile wide. The National Weather Service issued a Tornado Emergency (more urgent than a Tornado Warning) for Greensburg and the surrounding areas almost 20 minutes before the tornado hit. The warning, broadcast on TV, radio, and the internet, as well as the tornado siren system set up in the city, alerted the 1,574 people in the town of the impending danger.
The 1.7 mile wide, EF5 tornado made a direct hit on the town shortly before 10:00PM that night. The tornado was larger than the town itself, and destroyed 95% of all structures, leaving the remaining 5% severely damaged. Through all of this carnage, only 12 people were killed, and 60+ injured. Only a small percentage of the town's population was physically injured or killed by this tornado, even though the entire town was literally leveled.
What was the cause of this astounding survival rate in such a damaging tornado? The warnings issued by the National Weather Service, says one resident:
“We had plenty of warning,” said Gary Goodheart, whose house was gutted with only a few walls left standing. “If people paid attention to sirens they should have been able to get to a safe place.”
If Rick Santorum had had his way, this tornado would have been unfathomably more deadly than it was. This goes for the countless other tornadoes that have hit since this bill was introduced in April 2005. Think about your life. Have you or anyone you know ever taken cover because of a tornado? Has your life ever been saved because of a warning you got from the Weather Service, be it about a tornado, severe thunderstorm, flood, or winter storm?
After Mr. Santorum's bill died a painful death winning virtually no support, he took to the airwaves shortly after Hurricane Katrina to bitch about the Weather Service's warning:
In an interview Thursday with WITF Public Radio in Harrisburg, Santorum said, in part, that "the Weather Service gave no warning, or not sufficient warning in my opinion, as to the effects when it came on land in Florida as a Category One hurricane."
Really, Rick? If I remember correctly, and I do, the National Weather Service issued the most sternly worded warning I've ever witnessed. "The Bulletin" as weather geeks call it was issued 24 hours before the storm made landfall. Take a look here, in its entirety:
WWUS74 KLIX 281550
URGENT — WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW ORLEANS LA
1011 AM CDT SUN AUG 28, 2005
...DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED...
.HURRICANE KATRINA...A MOST POWERFUL HURRICANE WITH UNPRECEDENTED
STRENGTH...RIVALING THE INTENSITY OF HURRICANE CAMILLE OF 1969.
MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS...PERHAPS LONGER. AT
LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL
FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL...LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY
DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.
THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL.
PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD
FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE
BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE...INCLUDING SOME
WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.
HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY...A
FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.
AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD...AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH
AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES
AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE
ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS...PETS...AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE
WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.
POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS...AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN
AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING
INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.
THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY
THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING...BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW
CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE
AN INLAND HURRICANE WIND WARNING IS ISSUED WHEN SUSTAINED WINDS NEAR
HURRICANE FORCE...OR FREQUENT GUSTS AT OR ABOVE HURRICANE FORCE...ARE
CERTAIN WITHIN THE NEXT 12 TO 24 HOURS.
ONCE TROPICAL STORM AND HURRICANE FORCE WINDS ONSET...DO NOT VENTURE
No adequate warning, huh? That's like blaming the news anchor for the news, or the sports reporter for the final score. The forecasters at the Weather Service do a damn fine job, and without them, we would be screwed. In the wonderful capitalist-free-weather-market-system-anti-government-therefore-too-also world Santorum wanted, you'd have to pay to know the temperature outside. You'd have to pay for a severe thunderstorm warning. You'd have to subscribe to a "gold premium service" to know more than "It's going to snow tomorrow."
The National Weather Service is one of those agencies that you don't touch. It's too vital to our safety and every aspect of our lives. It scares me that the new GOP House is eager to cut away basic government services, and it scares me even more that they have such totalitarian control of their party's members that they could get something like this passed again.
Remember what would have happened if Rick Santorum had his way, and make sure it never happens again.