Editorial: Kentucky cannot afford to lose the Mesonet Program

Herald Editorial Board

The Issue: Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget for the state of Kentucky would eliminate 70 programs while cutting spending by 6.25 percent. One program in particular, the Kentucky Mesonet, is a statewide weather monitoring network being developed at WKU.

Our Stance: The Mesonet program cannot support its infrastructure of 69 weather monitoring systems without the aid of the state government. While funding the state pension system should rightly be a priority, the data the Mesonet records is used by the weather service’s warning operations during extreme weather conditions. The Mesonet is a service whose benefits the state of Kentucky cannot afford to lose.

Kentucky is currently in the middle of a pension crisis. In an article published by the College Heights Herald last September, our state has over $64 billion in unfunded pension liability which translates to over $15,000 for each individual Kentuckian.

We all knew severe budget cuts were forthcoming so that teachers, government employees and other individuals who positively impact their communities could be rewarded with benefits they were promised after years of dedicated service.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Governor Matt Bevin proposed to analyze the effectiveness of 70 programs throughout the state in order for the Kentucky legislature to decide if eliminating any of these programs was possible. It’s the financially sensible thing to do.

One of these 70 programs, the Kentucky Mesonet, is a vast weather monitoring network spread throughout the state which has the ability to collect data during extreme weather conditions (i.e. tornadoes, flash floods and heat waves). The network was created in 2006 after current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was able to allocate $3 million in federal funding to sustain the program.

While it is a fiscally responsible move to make cuts to support Kentucky’s massively underfunded pension system, dismantling the Mesonet, which partners with the state weather service, could potentially do more harm than good.

John Gordon, director of the weather service’s office in Louisville, in a Courier-Journal interview said, “The Mesonet is critical to [the weather service’s] day to day operations. We use it in our forecasting, and most importantly we use it in our warning operations.”

Joe Sullivan, the warning coordination meteorologist in Louisville, went on to say “Warnings based on [Mesonet] data are more accurate and give people longer lead times to seek protection from [extreme weather].

Critics of Bevin’s proposed dismantling of the Mesonet system cite his consistent denial that climate change is a direct result of human activity. Extreme weather data collected by Mesonet could further support the scientific claim that climate change exists and could prove to be devastating to the human race.

Bevin has never been one to shy away from a tough position on climate change. In an article from “US news,” Bevin was quoted as saying “this idea that we all need to be held hostage to a handful of people … in order to make us jump through various regulatory hoops, as if somehow, we, mankind is solely responsible and is solely going to be the solution, is ludicrous.”

Regardless of the governor’s personal political agenda, the Mesonet saves lives by keeping a detailed record of data when Kentucky faces extreme weather conditions.

If our stance isn’t enough to convince you that the Mesonet deserves to stay, lawmakers from Bevin’s own party are taking action to try and keep the Mesonet.

Republican lawmaker Rob Rothenburger was quoted as saying “[The Mesonet] is very vital to the state. I hope to work with the governor’s office and other legislators to find either substitute funding for it or some other revenue source.”

One important industry in particular could prove to be vulnerable without the presence of Mesonet: agriculture. In the past, these weather stations have allowed scientists to monitor drought conditions and help gain federal disaster aid for farmers that need it. 

The services that the Mesonet provides to the state far outweigh the money it would save for the pension system. It is our hope at the College Heights Herald that funding can be secured to sustain Mesonet.

The Herald Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected].