Hurricane season, the time of the year when the North Atlantic is most likely to spawn dangerous storms, kicked off yesterday with thankfully placid skies. Still, memories of Hurricane Matthew still linger as communities try to rebuild with no help from the Trump administration. And even less help might be on the way, as two key federal agencies have nobody at the top.
NPR took a look at the current state of NOAA, America’s weather agency, and FEMA, which gets aid on the ground in the wake of a disaster on US soil. The good news, such as it is, is that FEMA’s former head, at least, says the agency he left in January is perfectly capable of the day-to-day:
FEMA’s last director, Craig Fugate, who stepped down in January, says day-to-day operations at the agency are in good hands, so he is not concerned about a temporary vacuum at the top. He says, “The bigger challenge is longer term, is setting the tone and direction of the agency; being able to represent the agency in the policy discussions at the highest level of government.”
Still, the Trump administration’s inability to staff crucial positions has left more than a few people wondering what happens when a hurricane makes landfall. Trump’s proposed budget makes deep cuts, albeit in FEMA’s case it’s unlikely to get them. NOAA, however, is an agency likely in Trump’s crosshairs due to its research naturally being useful for climate change studies: Trump’s next budget, which will be debated in September, wants to slash NOAA’s weather satellite budget by 17%. That would limit the ability of NOAA to predict, spot, and track hurricanes earlier, saving more lives.
The main question, though, is more urgent. NOAA believes that this hurricane season will be “above normal” with at least two major hurricanes and at least eleven named storms. There’s already been one: Tropical Storm Arlene arrived in April, the first “pre-season” storm in more than a decade.