Florida senators push more funding for hurricane research

Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center wait for Hurricane Gustav to lash the Louisiana coast.
Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center wait for Hurricane Gustav to lash the Louisiana coast. Andy Newman / AP

WASHINGTON — Florida's senators on Tuesday renewed a push to boost federal funding for research into predicting, modeling and preventing damage from hurricanes.

"After Katrina, you'd think the government would be doing more to get ready for the next big one," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.

Along with Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, Nelson is sponsoring legislation to provide $375 million to bolster research into the causes and intensity of big storms, as well as ways to lessen property damage and the loss of life.

"This is very much connected to the future of our state as we look at the economic damage that can occur," said Martinez, who joined Nelson at a Senate hearing.

Martinez noted that the National Science Board estimated that hurricanes from 2002 to 2007 caused $180 billion in losses, compared with $14 billion from earthquakes, "yet there isn't a nationally targeted research initiative for hurricanes" like there is for earthquakes.

He also noted that U.S. research could benefit other countries that are hammered by tropical storms but "really have a lot less wherewithal to deal with these problems."

Kelvin K. Droegemeier, co-chairman of a National Science Board task force that in January 2007 called for a national hurricane research initiative, said hurricane research is a "modest, loosely coordinated enterprise."

He said that the disparity between research on earthquakes and hurricanes prompted the science board to call for the national effort. He said the research community wants to look at hurricanes "not just as a weather problem, but bringing in social, behavioral sciences, the economic sciences. . . . We're looking at predicting a hurricane as a complete, total problem for society, not just as a weather event."

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison noted in her prepared remarks that 2008's Hurricane Ike caused $24 billion in damage and killed 112 people. "There are many portions of my home state of Texas that are still recovering from this devastating storm," she said.

The science of determining where a hurricane will make landfall has improved, said Richard Spinrad, an administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, he said the research into the intensity of hurricanes still falls short.

"We have recognized that in order to do our part . . . we need to enhance our research investments specifically to improve the intensity forecasts," he said.

The agency in the next month plans to send up high-altitude balloons in areas where hurricanes initially form to see if the information can sharpen NOAA's ability to forecast the intensity of storms, Spinrad said.


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