Good Senator, Bad Senator


Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) is up to his old tricks again, spouting forth the company line of his home-state puppet masters at AccuWeather. He once again is dogging the NWS, this time for supposedly insufficient warnings for Katrina before its Florida landfall, under his usual agenda that claims NWS should not do anything that possibly can be done by a private sector forecaster. Recall that NHC issued a hurricane warning for the area 18 hours before the Florida landfall and had watches before that. Of course, AccuWeather doesn’t issue such specific forecasts and never objectively verifies them in a scientifically rigorous way, so we’ll never really know. We can collect examples, however. More below…

Amidst the horrendous aftermath of Katrina, Santorum apparently had nothing better to do than to call for NHC’s forecasting of the event to be questioned and investigated, in the context of his bill to strip the NWS of many of its public forecasting duties. Naturally, any erosion of the NWS would benefit Santorum’s hip-pocket monetary benefactors from AccuWeather, who have contributed thousands to his campaign funds. [For more background on that situation and the dangerous piece of legislative lunacy on the Congressional docket, see a column of mine from April 23.]

As a former NHC forecaster, I’m about fed up with the ceaseless and utterly unjustified abuse heaped on my colleagues there in the form of the deceptions and distortions emanating from central PA. Somebody has to defend NHC from unjustified attacks for political gain; and it might as well be my NWS Employees Organization and those of us who see right through the grossly distorted agenda of propaganda and misinformation.

Once again, thankfully, sensible citizens and the NWSEO have stepped to the plate to swat Santorum’s pitches out of the park, as has one of Santorum’s Republican colleagues to the south. NWSEO has demanded Santorum’s retraction (not that such will be forthcoming).

OK, go ahead. Investigate NHC’s forecasts — but side by side with AccuWeather’s. I have. Want to see? Click here. This screen capture was grabbed (thanks, KScharf!) at 4:30 pm CDT, Friday 26 August, with AccuWeather’s Katrina prediction at left and NHC’s at right.

As often is the case, NHC’s forecast absolutely dominated AccuWeather’s. Why? Let’s start with six full time top-notch tropical scientists named Pasch, Avila, Stewart, Franklin, Beven and Knabb, five with Ph.D. degrees, well over 100 years’ combined experience doing tropical meteorology and nothing else. There’s not a tropical cyclone forecast staff anywhere, worldwide, public or private, that comes even close to matching that experience and credentials. And their excellence shows, time and again, as it did with Katrina.

No forecasters are perfect. But some are far less perfect than others. And here is Santorum, with no meteorological education whatsoever, passing absolutely unsubstantiated and flat-out wrong claims of forecast undesirability, much as a hyper-ruminant cow passes gas. Maybe he should look back toward his buttcheeks and investigate instead those whose lips are planted firmly thereon.


By contrast, fellow Republican Jim DeMint, a politician who gets it, who knows better, who represents a truly hurricane prone state, has done a wonderful deed worthy of attention and praise. He speaks and writes from the truth in his press release, splendidly praising the efforts of the NWS, and in particular Max Mayfield and the NHC, about their performance with Katrina. Sen. DeMint called it “one of the most accurate hurricane predictions we have ever seen.” And he’s absolutely right!

The highlight of DeMint’s press release is pretty amazing:

“According to records kept by the National Weather Service, on the night of Saturday, August 27th, the Director of the National Hurricane Center Max Mayfield personally phoned the governors of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, as well as the mayor of New Orleans to alert them of the impending threat.

“It is highly rare for a career scientist to take the initiative to
personally call elected officials,” said Senator DeMint. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Director Mayfield and his team of scientists for their hard work. This was a difficult storm to predict but they got it right and they got it right early and it saved lives.”

Yes! Truer words can’t be spoken. That’s not all, either: Mr. DeMint will hold a hearing next week called “The Lifesaving Role of Hurricane Prediction,” which will only further put credit squarely where due: with the folks at NHC and in NWS at large.

We should congratulate Sen. DeMint for taking this bold and prominent stand on behalf of NWS forecasters, who almost never are noticed at the level of Congress unless something goes wrong. In this case, the NWS did the best job in its role with Katrina of any agency — federal, state or local — and set an example of excellence that will be hard even for its own people to surpass again. But given what I know of the folks who do that job, they just might! Your tax dollars never have been better spent than on those forecasts.

And finally, being a parent, I can’t help but offer these thoughts:

Good for DeMint, bad for Santorum. DeMint, you get a yummy mint. 🙂

Bad Ricky! You’re grounded to your room ’til you quit whining, and apologize!


6 Responses to “Good Senator, Bad Senator”

  1. Mike Hardiman on September 14th, 2005 5:31 pm

    Couldn’t help but notice that there has been nothing but silence from the “NOAA Elite” … our fearless “leaders.” One would think that with a powerful Senator breathing down the backs of the NHC, NOAA brass would actually say something in their defense. But yet, nothing…

  2. bc on September 15th, 2005 11:33 pm

    Santorum is a hypocritic asshole. With the flag wrapped around his shoulders and carrying a cross, “Man On Dog” crusades against those in the government that are providing badly needed services to the American public.

    I share Mike’s earlier comments but I am not surprised. The biggest area where NOAA has grown has been (surprise!) the Vice Adm.’s office staff. Giving more money to the NWS would defeat the Vice Adm.’s goal of dismantling the NWS and using the freed pool of money to study catfish spawning in the toxic cesspool we now call Lake Ponchatrain. Meanwhile the men and women of the NWS — some now working in Slidell and Mobile with only the clothes on their backs — may find themselves out of a job because our Fearless Leaders are too fearful to stand up to Congress and say hey! the NWS was about the only federal agency that did their jobs. It is a testament to the hard working men and women of the NWS that they did their job as well as they did despite the best efforts of NOAA hindquarters.

  3. tornado on September 21st, 2005 9:32 pm

    The link to the comparison image works now. Thanks to Paul Ruscher for catching it. I apologize for the link not working earlier. The HTML changed itself from when I typed up the BLOG to the actual online version, adding a bunch of directories that didn’t exist. They do now.

  4. tornado on September 21st, 2005 9:50 pm

    I saw this from my union yesterday, but got distracted and forgot to post it sooner. All of what follows below is also confirmable in the Congressional Record, so this information is totally on the public record.

    Thanks, Paul, for reminding me of this. Text courtesy of NWSEO.


    The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings this afternoon on Katrina. The House Science Committee will be holding hearing Wednesday morning (9/21). Sen. Ben Nelson (Florida) asked Max Mayfield whether it was true that Secretary Chertoff (the head of homeland security) & Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used Accuweather for hurricane forecasts of Katrina and he confirmed it.

    The National Infrastructure Command Center in DHS prepared an “overnight summary” for Secretary Chertoff on Katrina that was based on Accuweather hurricane predictions rather than hurricane forecast information from the National Hurricane Center. This dates from when former PA. Governor Ridge was Secretary of homeland security.

    What’s even most shocking is that the “NOAA Desk” in the DHS Ops Center, staffed by a primary & two backup NWS meteorologists, prepared forecasts for Secretary Chertoff based on the National Hurricane Center; however, it is unsure that this ever made it to the Secretary. To make matters worse & even more confusing, FEMA relies solely on NWS products, which includes those issued by the National Hurricane Center. So FEMA (which only uses NWS) and the DHS (which uses Accuweather) are not even looking at the same forecasts!

    The NWS NHC’s track for Katrina was significantly different & more accurate than Accuweather’s. Just recently, Accuweather’s track for Ophelia brought it across Florida & into the Gulf. In both cases, Accuweather’s forecast was dead wrong. The end result is that the head of homeland security & DHS & FEMA received conflicting forecasts.

    Sen. Bill Nelson also asked Max Mayfield about consolidation and downsizing of WFOs and Max Mayfield unequivocally said it was a very bad idea, and that he hopes that it doesn’t happen and that the local WFOs are an essential part of NWS. Senator Nelson also trashed Accuweather and, without naming Santorum, blasted those who would try to take NWS off the air and off the internet to help commercial interests.

  5. Aaron Kennedy on September 22nd, 2005 9:38 pm

    Crapuweather is up to it again…

    Of note (I saw it with my own eyes)… they quickly pulled the derogatory text within a few hours of posting.

  6. me on October 6th, 2005 10:38 pm

    The backlash against Accuweather should be immediate and severe. I suggest getting the AMS and NWA involved in demanding a public apology from Accuweather for the “considers this forecast useless” remark.

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