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 Ossqss:


Remember, the first date of a named storm was only the tie-breaker. I am sure you didi't win at Halo everytime, I know I did not :)

Be well all, L8R


I can't remember, but I think I predicted a pretty active season.
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting CaneWarning:


I'm never playing that game again! I've been way off so far.


Remember, the first date of a named storm was only the tie-breaker. I am sure you didi't win at Halo everytime, I know I did not :)

Be well all, L8R
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting Ossqss:


Understood, it was simply a jab, if you will, at one of the last 7 remaining prognosticators in our contest :)


I'm never playing that game again! I've been way off so far.
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
Quoting futuremet:


It is merely a flux of moisture. Keep in mind that long range GFS beyond 180hrs amplify the swaths up to 5 times.


Understood, it was simply a jab, if you will, at one of the last 7 remaining prognosticators in our contest :)
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
The current SAL out there right now is going to put a pretty tight lid on the wave train for the next 3-4 days easy. (look at the SAL maps... the one that just pulled off the coast is massive). With how things are setting up in the GOM and the Caribbean, it looks to be quiet for a while. Something could spin up off the coast of NC/SC, but its going to have an uphill battle.
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Quoting Ossqss:



Hummm,



It is merely a flux of moisture. Keep in mind that long range GFS beyond 180hrs amplify the precip swaths up to 5 times.
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
Ok on a temporal basis we are 17% of the way through the hurricane season.


Are we exactly 17% or are you rounding? I'd like to see the exact percentage including a decimal or two.
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667
BTW, Scott, it was posted in direct relation to SSIGG's picks in our contest is all. He might get lucky -- LoL
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting Ossqss:



Hummm,



Interesting
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting scottsvb:



lol dude anything after 120hrs out on the GFS is a Farmers Alnamac you saw what the GFS did to our last so-called system from 72hrs out...nada! You can post it...but its for laughs!


Yep, you have made that clear before and I don't think anyone would disagree with that take. What do you see in our future?
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting Ossqss:


Nope, from here. Interesting animation also.



lol dude anything after 120hrs out on the GFS is a Farmers Alnamac you saw what the GFS did to our last so-called system from 72hrs out...nada! You can post it...but its for laughs!
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Quoting scottsvb:


wait..your not posting the GFS 264 hrs out are ya? lmfao lets get real!


Just like any other model performace this year. I agree with you. High or low res., same result.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting scottsvb:


what map is that? when? last week?


Nope, from here. Interesting animation also.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting scottsvb:


what map is that? when? last week?


wait..your not posting the GFS 264 hrs out are ya? lmfao lets get real!
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Quoting Ossqss:



Hummm,



what map is that? when? last week?
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Its gonna be a quiet couple of weeks...
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Quoting StSimonsIslandGAGuy:
The average date for the first system to reach tropical storm strength is....July 12.



Hummm,

Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
We have been spoiled in the last few years!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Where is Patrap with the pickaxe guy that says -- Nothin :)

Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8188
Quoting hurricane2009:


I think you misread it, the other option was being away from your family during a hurricane

To me that is much worse


Of course the family would come with me. My dad is hard-headed and has been through a bunch of canes, I think he would stay.
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Yeah, I'm out also - early start tomorrow. I'm looking forward to some days when I don't have to get up so EARLY!!!! lol

G'night.
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Anyway, I only stopped in a for a bit tonight so will wish you all a good night.

Have a great evening .
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654. ch2os
464. CycloneOz 7:30 PM EDT on July 01, 2009

Thank you for taking time to make those videos. They were fabulous and told such a magnificent story of what mother nature looks like when viewed at that distance.
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Quoting hahaguy:

I'd say being away from home/family when a cane hits.
I think I'd feel "stranded" - in a foreign country, wanting to get home but unable to.
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I moved to NE Polk County now I get Bay News 9 instead of CF News 13. Not much coverage for my area there but that is what happens in the 4 corners. Klystron 9 looks good though
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The other thing I am watching for this year is to see how well the GFS performs. It did really well last year, particularly 7 days out, but so far this year not up to the same standard. The NAM picked up on the recent Invest a good two days before the GFS.

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The wind off the coast of Tampa looks like the signature of a low, probably not...also why do all the buoys off the coast of Tampa read a South swell when the wind has constantly been out of the West...anyone have a clue

http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/GOES/EAST/gmex/flash-vis.html
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Which do u think is worse: being hit by a major hurricane, or being away from home/family when a hurricane hits your area?


No brainer...Being home during a major is worse...If you are away (hoping you have insurance) is better.
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Quoting kmanislander:


Pull the shutters before getting on the plane LOL
I'm leaving someone in the house, which does not negate the likelihood I'd be directing the shutter placement window by window long distance from my cell phone. . . lol
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Quoting weathersp:


You know better than that to say that here KMAN.. LOL..

but 99% of the time you are right, there is at least one...


I'll settle for 99%
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Which do u think is worse: being hit by a major hurricane, or being away from home/family when a hurricane hits your area?

I'd say being away from home/family when a cane hits.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting CaneWarning:


I remember the office closing for Fay. We didn't even get more than a shower and a 10 mph wind gust!


I had jury duty during Fay. We had tropical storm warnings up since the morning and they finally released us during the afternoon.
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Quoting kmanislander:
Every year has at least one !


You know better than that to say that here KMAN.. LOL..

but 99% of the time you are right, there is at least one...
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Every time I hear late season start I think of Andrew LOL....

kman, I'm supposed to be visiting the Midwest and intermountain west for about three weeks from about 20 July to 20 August (not sure of exact dates). Back in 1994, I had a train trip terminated unexpectedly because of Charley. Hope this season's not the same. . .


Pull the shutters before getting on the plane LOL
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Which do u think is worse: being hit by a major hurricane, or being away from home/family when a hurricane hits your area?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Every time I hear late season start I think of Andrew LOL....

kman, I'm supposed to be visiting the Midwest and intermountain west for about three weeks from about 20 July to 20 August (not sure of exact dates). Back in 1994, I had a train trip terminated unexpectedly because of Charley. Hope this season's not the same. . .
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Ernesto was nada here in South Fla. We even got off work that day...and it wound up to be a sunny and beautiful.


Ya Ernesto was a joke here.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 2838
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


I don't think anyone on here has ever mentioned that the first named storm in 1992 was Andrew which formed in August. (Apply directly to the forehead)


Surprisingly, Andrew was the first tropical system that year, but in April there was an unnamed subtropical storm.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:


Ernesto was nada here in South Fla. We even got off work that day...and it wound up to be a sunny and beautiful.


I remember the office closing for Fay. We didn't even get more than a shower and a 10 mph wind gust!
Member Since: April 26, 2009 Posts: 3 Comments: 3667

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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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