Report:Fund storm studies

A federal science board calls for multiagency research to better understand how hurricanes work and predict what they will do.

Published September 30, 2006

MIAMI - The government should invest more money in understanding hurricanes because they are so deadly and expensive, according to a draft of a federal report released Friday.

The National Science Board's draft report recommends a streamlined, multiagency effort to improve hurricane science and engineering research, along with about $300-million a year in additional funding.

"We urgently need a determined effort to maximize our understanding of hurricanes and ensure the effective application of science and engineering outcomes for the protection of life and property," the report states.

Hurricane-related losses in the United States totaled $168-billion in the last two hurricane seasons, and 1,450 storm-related deaths were reported, according to the report.

Meanwhile, annual funding for the government's "focal point" for storm analysis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, has never exceeded $5.1-million, and its staff has declined by 30 percent in the past decade, the report states.

The science board's analysis determined that most hurricane-related funding is focused on short-term forecasting efforts, with less than 2 percent aimed at improving structural design and engineering for buildings.

Florida Sens. Mel Martinez, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, seized upon the report as a rallying point for building a national consensus on hurricane preparedness. They proposed legislation to implement the Science Board's recommendations.

"This is about long-term research and a breadth of research that we haven't seen before," Martinez said at a Capitol news conference.

The proposed legislation would put NOAA and the National Science Foundation in charge of coordinating the research initiative, and appropriate $435-million a year for its projects through 2017.

Its highest priority would be predicting hurricane size and intensification, landfall site, and the severity of storm surge and storm-related rainfall and flooding.

The report also said that current climate models do not adequately explain the link between hurricanes and global climate changes, that evacuation plans need refining and that improved communication technologies are needed to accurately assess damage.

Information from McClatchy-Tribune News Service was used in this report.