It’s cold comfort, perhaps, but one of the few bits of good news during this snowy season is the accuracy of weather forecasting. It’s easy to take the US weather satellites overhead for granted, but predicting storms accurately can be a matter of life and death. Seventy-six years ago, more than 600 people throughout the region died when the Great Hurricane of 1938 cut an unexpectedly destructive swath from New York to New England. Meteorologists agree that modern forecasts reduce casualties by providing much-needed warnings.

But this stalwart satellite early-warning system is nearing the end of its lifespan, and a dismal record of government cost overruns and delays means replacements may not be ready in time — resulting in a dangerous data gap at a time when the need for accurate climate forecasts is more urgent than ever. Congress should press NOAA to conduct a rigorous analysis, sort out inter-agency mismanagement, and line up a contingency plan to back up this crucial technology.

In 2014, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology asked the Government Accountability Office to study the multibillion-dollar satellite program, which includes a geostationary series that provides real-time images of the earth shot from 22,000 miles up, and polar-orbiting satellites that provide critical data used in short-term weather forecasts. The results of the study were alarming. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the committee, said “dysfunctional management” could jeopardize forecasting for everyone from pilots to the military, “putting American lives and property at risk.”

..for the moment, the responsibility for producing reliable weather data lies with the federal government. While there are potential stopgap solutions — data can be obtained from European partners and from commercial aircraft — it’s time for NOAA to pay attention to what’s overhead in order to keep Americans safe on the ground.