New $50 million hurricane research center: a bad idea

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:28 PM GMT on July 01, 2009

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Hurricane track forecasts have improved by about 50% over the past twenty years, which has undoubtedly saved many lives and billions of dollars. These forecast improvements have primarily resulted from the investment made in hurricane research, which has been funded at approximately $50 million per year over that period. To me, it is unfathomable that our nation spends so little on scientific research that provides such an incredible value. The President's National Science Board, which makes budget recommendations for the National Science Foundation (NSF), agrees, and recommended a six-fold increase in hurricane research spending to $300 million per year in a 2007 report. But exactly how much "bang for the buck" are we getting from hurricane research? The answer is murky, making it difficult to excite the kind of attention and political appeal needed to give hurricane research funding the big shot in the arm it deserves. However, recent moves by the Obama administration show that they are taking notice of the need to spend more money on hurricane research. But, a recent proposal by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, to build a new $50 million hurricane research center in Orlando, is the wrong way to boost hurricane research.


Figure 1. A science team led by NOAA's Hurricane Research Division (HRD) prepares for a mission into Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Image credit: NOAA/HRD.

How current hurricane research is funded
In 2008, about $50 million was spent by the U.S. government on hurricane research, with about 25% of this total going to maintain the facilities that do the research. The $50 million funded 228 person-years of research. About 35% of this was provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with the rest of the money coming from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Naval Research (ONR), and NASA. An additional $4 million was earmarked by Congress in 2008 to fund NOAA's promising new effort to improve hurricane intensity forecasts--the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP).

Where future funding increases should go: HFIP and JHT
The President's proposed FY 2010 budget continues the roughly $50 million dollars the hurricane research community traditionally gets, but adds $13 million in funding for the HFIP effort. To me, this is a great way to channel new hurricane research funding, as the HFIP effort is heavily focused on improving hurricane intensity forecasts, which have not improved at all over the past twenty years. Specific advancements outlined in the HFIP plan include:

1) Improving hurricane track forecast accuracy by 50% out to 5 days by 2018.
2) Improving hurricane intensity forecast accuracy by 50% out to 5 days by 2018.
3) Extending the lead time for hurricane forecasts out to 7 days.
4) Reducing the false alarm rate for rapid intensity forecasts.
5) Increasing the probability of detection of rapid intensification.

Another great way to boost hurricane research funding would be to put more money into NOAA's Joint Hurricane Testbed (JHT) project. This $1 million per year program has funded 50 separate hurricane research efforts over since 2001, 30 of which have been adopted operationally by the National Hurricane Center. Examples of successful JHT projects include the successful integration of the Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer (SFMR) surface wind measurement instrument into NHC operations; improvements to the GFDL and HWRF computer models; and improving techniques to make a "consensus" forecast based on the output of our four best computer models. However, no new money for JHT has been proposed in the FY 2010 budget, though some of the money earmarked for HFIP may flow into JHT.

A new $50 million hurricane research center proposed
Instead, a new proposal for hurricane research funding has been championed by Representative Alan Grayson, D-Florida. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, Grayson is pushing for a new $50 million hurricane research center to be built in Orlando. He demanded that such a hurricane research center be built in exchange for his vote for the controversial climate change bill passed Friday by the U.S. House, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. There is no language in the actual bill authorizing funds for such a center--Grayson merely has the word of democratic lawmakers, including President Obama, that such a center would be built. "I think it's a very worthwhile project. I look forward to working on it and making it a priority as the legislative process moves along," said U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who sponsored the bill, in the Orlando Sentinel article. The center could be constructed with funds aimed at helping states "study and adapt to climate change," money that would not be available until 2012 at the earliest. The hurricane center is "among the type of activities that would be eligible to receive funding," Waxman said. "We've never had anything [like this] come into this district before, ever," said Grayson, a freshman lawmaker. "This will be the world-leading facility for hurricane research. This will draw people from all over the world."

Well, I have championed efforts to give more funding to hurricane research over the years, and I think the $300 million per year in funding for the National Hurricane Research Initiative proposed in 2007 by the President's National Science Board is what is needed. However, I think Grayson's proposed new hurricane center is a bad idea. Florida already has a world-leading facility for hurricane research, NOAA's Hurricane Research Division on Virginia Key, and does not need another. The U.S. hurricane research community has an infrastructure in place that works, and the best way to foster hurricane research is to pump money into this existing infrastructure. I talked with a number of senior hurricane research scientists about the idea of a new hurricane research center, and none of them supported it. It's great that Rep. Grayson's wants to put new much-needed funding into hurricane research, but he didn't consult with the experts to see if a new research center was a good way to do this. It isn't. Where are all of the scientists needed to staff such a center going to come from? Presumably, they will be drawn from existing successful research teams, leading to the disruption of these proven research efforts. Adding a new national research center with a new bureaucracy with new management needing on-the-job training will dilute and distract from current hurricane research efforts, and is not a good way to spend $50 million. Several senior hurricane research scientists are going to be reaching out to Rep. Grayson over the next few months to make him more aware of the abilities and needs of the hurricane research community. Hopefully, these efforts will result in a more productive way for the Congressman to boost hurricane research. If you live in Rep. Grayson's district, I recommend you contact him to express your desire to see him champion a more effective way to boost hurricane research than with his proposed $50 million hurricane research center. Putting the $50 million into the National Hurricane Research Initiative (HFIP) effort would be a better use of the funds. To his credit, Rep. Grayson is a co-sponsor of the National Hurricane Research Initiative of 2009 (H.R. 327), a bill introduced into the House of Representatives on January 8, 2009. This bill is a lesser ($150 million per year) version of the $300 million per year National Hurricane Research Initiative proposed in 2007 by the President's National Science Board.

Good links for HFIP information are at:

http://www.nrc.noaa.gov/HFIPDraftPlan.html
http://www.dtcenter.org/plots/hrh_test/workshop20 09/presentations/1_Gall_HRH%20HFIP%20presentation. pdf

Some summaries of recent HFIP activities in the last year are at:

http://www.dtcenter.org/plots/hrh_test/index.php
http://rammb.cira.colostate.edu/research/tropical _cyclones/hfip/workshop_2009/

My next post will be Friday, when I'll have the first half of July hurricane outlook.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Seastep:
$3.5 billion... now THAT is some serious pork. :)

Link
and politics at its finest.
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I doubt anything will develop in the Caribbean during the next week . Looking at the ECMWF, you will likely see thunderstorms that come off Central America form in the East Pacific.

Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas will be the places to watch during the next week.

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Quoting jasoniscoolman09:
wow that wave off the african coast looks pretty good coming out of africa??????

Link

http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/eumet/eatl/vis-l.jpg


In that same image look at all the dust to the north and west of it. All that mirky-looking stuff, it's an insane amount of dust and dry air. All those waves coming off don't have a chance while it's there. It's the end of the game for them as soon as they hit that cloud.

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26684
80. JRRP
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$3.5 billion... now THAT is some serious pork. :)

Link
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Quoting WPBHurricane05:


Probably. Although IMO...if we don't have pork barrel funding, my representative would be useless.


Which is the way it ought to be.

Fed govt was set up for reps to convene PART TIME and then go back to their normal civilian job.

Oh well, not so anymore.
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O Canada
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Is this true ?

Link
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Good morning all.

Tropical Tidbit for Wednesday July 1st
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26684
Any chance for development from the 2 waves in the Atlantic? Dry air is a problem, but other than that, seems like conditions are fairly conducive.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5315
Thank you for the informative article, Jeff. This news needs to get out beyond the scientific community. Maybe you could make a summary and send it as a letter to the editor of various (surviving) major newspapers -- especially the Washington Post and the Orlando Sentinel.
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blogs moving slow....
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Quoting presslord:
Is that something off the...ah...Carolinas I see there??


Carols... not Carolinas... sheesh :)
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Is that something off the...ah...Carolinas I see there??
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What are the chances for development of the little blob in the Caribbean. It was mentioned earlier that it was under low shear. It is also in a climatology favored area.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5315


NOAA PDF on QuickSCAT follow-on efforts
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
MLC...it's really not so much bribery...public policy (politics) is the Art of the Possible...the trick here is going to be finding out who the Congressman is listening to so that we can specifically refute their contentions...
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ESL Satellite Page
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
I believe they should allocate any funds in this arena towards a new QuikScat ( maybe 2). The value of that far exceeds anything else discussed or proposed. That value will become very apparent, once it stops functioning. IMHO :)

Link
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Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
Orca,,,the reality is that not all so called "pork" is bad...anything funded in the Federal budget can be branded "pork'...
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#8 crownwx

Interesting post, but I hope the predictions for a dry summer in the caribbean are wrong. Water is v. expensive here so we love the wet summers, they also keep the SST cool. Whenever we have a dry July/August we seem to have large late season storms here in the West. Hopefully the stronger trades will compensate this year.
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Anyone think the carrib blob has any developmental chance? Like always at work and am limited to what i can pull up..
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Question I posed this morning before the new Blog posted for the rest of you folks....Which atlantic hurricane season, in the last 50 years, had the least number of storms? Just curious as I checked on-line briefly and only found a listing for 1914 with only one tropical storm........Not suggesting a "bust" season by any means; just curious as to recent analog years with minimal activity...Thanks.
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Little Blob... Low shear...
Thought I would try something.. a weather related post.
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Quoting Orcasystems:


ROFLMAO, I would agree if we had the money, we might do it also. Hard to spend what you do not have.


No it isn't - Americans do it all the time!
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting stillwaiting:
less than .28 inches of rain here in srq,meanwhile places like tampa/st pete have had on average 1-3 inches!!!1,where's the rain at????.....also I forgot to mention this yesterday,I was talking w/my nieghbor and he and his girlfriend told me a waterspout came off the water and basically lifted and the funnel went right over our houses!!!!!(I live on the beach)......and while this happened I was unfortunately training at my new job:(....this was the third waterspout I missed in the last week,all were less then a mile from my house,I just keep watching!!


Many parts around Tampa are flooded today. I think parts got more than 5 inches in just an hour or so. I drove through about 2 feet of rain this morning.
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting Patrap:
The Canadian Politicians call it "Canadian Bacon" I hear.


ROFLMAO, I would agree if we had the money, we might do it also. Hard to spend what you do not have.
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The Canadian Politicians call it "Canadian Bacon" I hear.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
While I'm all for more proper funding for hurricane research, how about some more funding for hurricane response and recovery?

The one agency that knew what it was doing (and did a hell of a job doing it) after Katrina, the Coast Guard, has had its funding slashed a number of times. The Deepwater Program, which was to replace or retrofit the aging Coast Guard fleet of ships and aircraft, has had it's funding yanked. The CG already had a number of problems with equipment during its response to Katrina, so the next time they need to respond, it will be even harder.
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Quoting Orcasystems:
Now correct me if I am wrong... is not this $50 Million just standard Pork Barrel funding? I was under the impression from watching the elections down there, that this was the standard way of getting funding.


Probably. Although IMO...if we don't have pork barrel funding, my representative would be useless.
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Quoting SavannahStorm:
Hey, if we all sent in $50 we could get them a really nice cappuccino maker and a few cases of Red Bull. That should get productivity down there to an all-time high.


hah! it always helps mine... i think i have already guzzled 2 this morning
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
The LSU Earth Scan Lab does a Boatload of Hurricane Research already,with State,private funding.
No need to outlay more Fed funds.

ESL by LSU
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 129093
He demanded that such a hurricane research center be built in exchange for his vote for the controversial climate change bill passed Friday by the U.S. House...

And that folks, is how your so-called "leaders" conduct the business of the country! His vote was cast "not" on the merits of the bill, but as bribery for other legislation, a facility (most likey to benefit a contractor) that would be constructed even without the input of those that would run it! LOL. Pathetic.

Nice blog, Doc. Agreed. Thanks.
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Cudos Dr. Masters. We only have our voice and if we just write about it here then it does not mean much. Your words hopefully will direct the people living in this man's district to contact him and further his education on who he needs to talk to before spending the money on such a wasteful project. However, with politicians, no matter which party, they have their agenda outlined when they enter office and they owe the people who put them there so much that our words fall by the wayside. However, all is not lost. Let us get out our pens and set forth to at least let them know we know and are watching them. This sometimes works as they want to keep getting elected in office. In Numbers we can make the difference. Thank you Dr. Masters for steering us in the direction we need to go to make the difference in forecasting weather that effects us the greatest. All of us would not be on this site if we were not concerned about what Dr. Master's posted.
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less than .28 inches of rain here in srq,meanwhile places like tampa/st pete have had on average 1-3 inches!!!1,where's the rain at????.....also I forgot to mention this yesterday,I was talking w/my nieghbor and he and his girlfriend told me a waterspout came off the water and basically lifted and the funnel went right over our houses!!!!!(I live on the beach)......and while this happened I was unfortunately training at my new job:(....this was the third waterspout I missed in the last week,all were less then a mile from my house,I just keep watching!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Hey, if we all sent in $50 we could get them a really nice cappuccino maker and a few cases of Red Bull. That should get productivity down there to an all-time high.
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Quoting JeffMasters:


Yes, $50 would not fund much research! Fixed.

Jeff


hehe! no doubt... I think I could fund the $50 project. Maybe I could get the facility named after me to...lol!

I love it when the Dr. post in the forums!!!
Member Since: August 30, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1857
Now correct me if I am wrong... is not this $50 Million just standard Pork Barrel funding? I was under the impression from watching the elections down there, that this was the standard way of getting funding.
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Quoting PcolaDan:
Happy B'day Canada Florida State University Section B style.

LINK

Note: "O Canada" has become the rally song of the fifth inning, sung whenever Florida State bats in the fifth. There are many, many rumors as to how this tradition was started, so it just depends on whom you ask. A Canadian flag was added to the Animals in 1991, and is now raised whenever the anthem is sung. We even sing %u201CO Canada%u201D in French from time to time if the mood hits us just right. It%u2019s become such a well-known tradition that even the organist at the ACC Tournament when it%u2019s in Durham, NC plays the anthem whenever FSU bats in the 5th inning.


I like it... now there is a place I could go visit :)
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what happened to waste not, want not???
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Is there any chance that the two waves (one at about 40 W) and the one just off the African coast develop. I know there is a lot of dust and dry air, but we continue to get closer to the Cape Verde Season.
Member Since: June 29, 2009 Posts: 13 Comments: 5315
I'm glad to see that at least someone out there understands that MORE BUREAUCRACY isn't needed...just proper funding for what is already in place.

Thanks Dr. Masters. :)
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Might get them a nice coffee machine though!


Caffeine may be all they need to improve forecasts! We just saved $50 million dollars with a $50 purchase.
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Quoting JeffMasters:


Yes, $50 would not fund much research! Fixed.

Jeff


Might get them a nice coffee machine though!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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