In our quest to keep food on American families’ kitchen tables, fishermen and farmers like us face the same challenges as many other small businesses — trying to make ends meet while producing a quality product that consumers demand. And while the skills, scenery and politics of our professions are as different as cows and cod, we also share dependence on — and great vulnerability to — one key variable: Mother Nature.
As this year’s catastrophic hurricanes and wildfires make painfully clear, every one of us can be suddenly and deeply affected by the weather. For farmers and fishermen, readily available, accurate, science-based weather forecasting is a fundamental necessity for our work, our safety and our bottom lines.
That is why we share deep concerns about President Trump’s nomination of Barry Myers, the current chief executive officer of AccuWeather Inc., to serve as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.
While weather forecasting is one of NOAA’s core missions, Myers’ background and history of political dealings show he may be more interested in private profit than public service, an agenda that would put NOAA’s weather forecasting service at risk.
According to Associated Press reports, Myers and his brother, AccuWeather co-founder Joel Myers, gave thousands of dollars to their then-senator Rick Santorum and his super PAC between 2003 and 2005. In 2005, Santorum introduced and was the sole sponsor of unsuccessful legislation that would have banned NOAA’s National Weather Service from conveying weather information directly to the American public, instead requiring data and forecasts to be routed through commercial firms like AccuWeather. This blatant attempt to capture more profit from taxpayer-funded science would’ve undermined public safety, and small businesses like ours.
NOAA’s work forms the basis of every weather forecast and storm alert delivered in the United States, whether it comes from an iPhone app, your local TV news, or Myers’ own company. Meteorologists throughout the government and private sector rely on NOAA’s data to support 1.5 million forecasts and 50,000 hazardous weather warnings issued to the public every year.
Farmers and ranchers need these predictions to schedule planting, irrigation, fertilizing, haying and harvests. Mis-timing any of these activities relative to the weather can greatly diminish a season’s earnings. For example, during calving, National Weather Service forecasts and extreme weather alerts are essential so we can brace for Iowa’s spring storms, which can devastate the herd of an unprepared cattle rancher.
According to scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, weather uncertainty is worth as much as 40 percent of gross margins in the agriculture sector. In other words, we depend on the scientific accuracy of NOAA’s weather analysis — and unimpeded provision of its forecasts to the public — to maintain both the yields needed to stock America’s grocery stores, and the revenue that keeps us in business.
For fishermen, access to weather forecasts is literally a matter of life and death. Commercial fishing was once America’s deadliest profession, due largely to the perils of being caught offshore during storms and heavy seas. However, annual commercial fishing fatalities declined by nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2015, thanks to greater use of safety equipment, smarter federal quota systems that end the incentive to fish during bad weather, and steady improvements in the accuracy and delivery of weather forecasts.
Though fishers and farmers are particularly attuned to the weather, the entire U.S. economy benefits from NOAA’s comprehensive weather monitoring and forecasting system. About one-third of U.S. economic output is directly affected by adverse weather, meaning that accurate forecasts support the efficiency of business operations, planning and investments nationwide.
Successful leadership of NOAA requires an appreciation for and scientific understanding of Earth’s natural systems, including oceans and climate. Even Iowa farmers care about the ocean: 40 percent of the precipitation that falls over land originates at sea, and the work of NOAA oceanographers to puzzle out the Pacific Ocean’s El Nino cycle has given farmers across America insights on drought forecasting months ahead of time.
Unlike 10 of NOAA’s 11 past administrators, Myers does not have an advanced degree in science. While President Trump has made clear that he wants to “disrupt” traditional operations of the federal government, the smooth functioning of NOAA’s complex scientific missions underpins the day-to-day safety and economic security of the American public, and small businesses like ours. This is not a post with which to play politics.
Myers’ most notable interaction with the agency he has been nominated to lead was an effort to undermine its most vital public mission for his own private profit. Americans deserve better.