* US weather service well worth taxpayer money, chief says
* Defends forecasting at time of tough spending decisions
* Tornadoes, floods, fires make 2011 a deadly, costly year
* Bulk of hurricane season is still to come
By Pascal Fletcher
MIAMI, Aug 4 Nature has not stinted in unleashing deadly weather on the United States this year and U.S. leaders should recognize the need for good forecasting services when they wield the cost-cutting knife, the director of the National Weather Service said on Thursday.
Jack Hayes used the opportunity of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's updated 2011 Atlantic hurricane forecast to stress "what taxpayers are getting in return for their investment in the National Weather Service," which is part of NOAA.
A hard-fought deficit-cutting deal passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama this week foresees $2.1 trillion in overall budget savings over 10 years, with painful cuts expected across the government.
"Here in Washington, D.C., our nation's leaders are making extremely tough decisions about federal spending, including what government services to fund and which to trim in efforts to reduce the nation's deficit," Hayes said on a conference call before the hurricane forecast update.
Calling this situation a "pressing issue," Hayes said 2011 has been a record year so far for extreme weather.
"Many recent events have shattered long standing records for tornadoes, floods, blizzards, wildfires and now we're experiencing, throughout much of the nation, heat waves," he said.
Tornadoes raking across the United States this year killed more than 54O people, and these and other extreme weather events have caused $32 billion in economic losses so far, making it a costly year, Hayes said.
"And we're only halfway through the year with the bulk of the hurricane season still ahead," he added.
Predicting the Atlantic-Caribbean region was heading for a busier-than-average 2011 hurricane season, NOAA experts raised their activity outlook, forecasting 14 to 19 tropical storms, with seven to 10 of those growing into hurricanes. [ID:nN1E7730WR]
The National Weather Service chief said the service's outlooks and forecasts provided key weather and climate information to industries from aviation to farming, tourism and fishing, to states and local municipalities, power companies and emergency managers.
"Accurate and timely weather services are important in people's daily lives but, even more important, they are a critical part of rebuilding the nation's economic security and reducing tragic loss of precious lives," Hayes said. (Editing by Vicki Allen)
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