Lesser Antilles disturbance; big money for hurricane research?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:53 PM GMT on October 28, 2006

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A tropical wave (93L) moving through the Lesser Antilles Islands has not gotten better organized since yesterday. Winds from this morning's QuikSCAT satellite pass were in the 20-30 mph range. Wind shear is about 10 knots over the disturbance, and is forecast to remain below 15 knots over the eastern Caribbean over the next two days. This may allow some slow development of the system. The models are indicating that if the disturbance crosses Cuba and enters the Bahamas, it may have a chance to develop early next week as it recurves northeastward out to sea. The disturbance may bring heavy rains to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba Sunday through Monday. I don't expect this system will become a tropical depression, but it is something we need to keep an eye on. This system is not a threat to the East Coast of Florida. My next update on this system will be Sunday evening.


Figure 1.Preliminary model tracks for tropical disurbance 93L.

The National Hurricane Research Initiative (NHRI)
There's big money proposed to fund new hurricane research. The National Science Board, in a report issued September 29, 2006, calls for an increase of $300 million per year in hurricane research funding. That's a whopping increase in funding, when one considers that the average annual spending on hurricane research has been only $20 million the past six years. So, what is the National Science Board, and this a reasonable proposal?

National Science Board
The 24 members of the National Science Board are appointed by the President of the United States, and make budget recommendations for the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF has an annual budget of about $5.6 billion (fiscal year 2006), and funds approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. So, this is a very serious proposal by a group which has real power to influence the Federal budget.

Major recommendations of the report
The primary recommendation of the report is the formation of a National Hurricane Research Initiative (NHRI), which will "provide urgently needed hurricane science and engineering research and education". As justification for this effort, the report notes that that hurricane damage is increasing, with annual total losses (in constant 2006 dollars) averaging $1.3 billion from 1949-1989, $10.1 billion from 1990-1995, and $35.8 billion per year during the last 5 years. $168 billion in losses occurred in 2004 and 2005 alone. Over 50% of the population lives within 50 miles of the coast, and the value of infrastructure in the Gulf and Atlantic coast areas is over $3 trillion, with trillions more in investment likely in the next few decades as the U.S. population continues to expand. This incredible investment will be increasingly affected by hurricanes, and scientists "know relatively little about the most important aspects of hurricanes including their internal dynamics and interactions with the larger-scale atmosphere and ocean; methods for quantifying and conveying uncertainty and mitigating hurricane impacts; associated short and long term consequences on the natural and built environment; and the manner in which society responds before, during, and after landfall." The study notes that "billions of tax dollars have been provided for rescue, recovery, and rebuilding after hurricanes strike", but more money needs to be spent minimizing losses from hurricanes before they strike. In fact, had the NHRI been funded two years ago, much of the devastation wrought by Katrina could have been avoided. The program funds engineering studies to evaluate the structural integrity of the entire coastal infrastucture including levees, seawalls, drainage systems, bridges, water/sewage, power, and communications. The flaws in the New Orleans levees that led to over 80% of the city's flooding could have been found and fixed before Katrina hit had such a program been funded earlier.

The report has many excellent suggestions on how to make a coordinated research effort that will pay big dividends over the coming years by reducing our vulnerability to hurricanes. For example, the report seeks funding for research on improving evacuation planning, so that we can avoid a repeat of the debacle that occurred during the evacuation of Houston for Hurricane Rita. Over 100 people died in the evacuation effort. Research on improved disaster communications technologies is proposed, so that we avoid the situation that arose in Katrina where FEMA had no idea what was going on at the Convention Center.

My only gripe about the report is the inclusion of funding for research on human modification of hurricanes to reduce their intensity or alter their movement. I don't believe we should be messing with these great storms until we understand better how they work. In addition, given the sheer size and incredible energy that storms have, modification efforts will likely be an ineffectual waste of time and money. Finally, I don't think the legal system in this country will allow hurricane modification to occur without a lot of lawsuits being filed. I don't know too many hurricane scientists who are in favor of hurricane modification research, and suspect it is being funded for political reasons.

Is $300 million a reasonable request?
To do a thorough job of reducing our vulnerability to hurricanes, $300 million per year is a reasonable amount to spend. However, the U.S. faces a number of threats that also require large outlays of dollars, such as bioterrorism and earthquakes. The framers of the report realize that getting a $300 million per year project funded in a time of "increasingly small non-defense discretionary budgets" is difficult. To put this number in perspective, the annual amount spent in the U.S. on meteorology operations and supporting research is $3 billion. About $1 billion/year of this goes to run the National Weather Service, with weather satellites consuming another big chunk of the costs. But consider the amount being spent on defending the country against bioterrorism. The federal budget for bioterrorism emergency preparedness has ranged between $3 and $6 billion per year since 2002. The request for FY 2007 is $4.3 billion. That's over 200 times what we spend on hurricane research, and over ten times the $300 million being proposed. While others will disagree, I believe that the threat of catastrophe from hurricane strikes on the U.S. is much higher than that from bioterrorism. If we need to find funding for the NHRI, the bioterrorism budget can suffer a 7% cut. Another hurricane as strong as Hurricane Katrina is certain to hit a major populated area in the future, while a bioterrorism attack is not certain, and hopefully not even probable. There are wiser ways to spend our disaster preparedness dollars than what we are doing.

National Hurricane Research Initiative Act of 2006
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., introduced the National Hurricane Research Initiative Act of 2006, a bi-partisan bill that adopts the recommendations of the report. The proposed legislation puts NOAA and the National Science Foundation in charge of coordinating the research initiative. Not surprisingly, the bill is being co-sponsored by Florida's other Senator, Sen. Nelson (D-FL), and Louisiana's two Senators, Sen. Vitter (R-LA), and Sen. Landrieu (D-LA). Apparently, the Senators from the states hard hit by the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 felt that $300 million per year wasn't enough, and ask for $435 million in funding per year through 2017.

Some historical perspective
In 1898, the United States fought the Spanish-American War. With the U.S. Navy heavily committed to operations in the Caribbean during the height of hurricane season, Willis L. Moore, Chief of the Weather Bureau, saw the need set up an improved hurricane warning system. Moore took a long view through the history of naval warfare and discovered that more armadas had been destroyed by weather than by the enemy. He placed his findings before President McKinley, and proposed that the U.S. spend money to establish a new hurricane warning service, despite the fact that budgets were tight in a time of war. McKinley responded to Moore: "I am more afraid of a West Indian hurricane than the entire Spanish Navy. Get this [hurricane warning] service inaugurated at the earliest possible moment!"

The Spanish are no longer our enemies, but the threat of hurricanes remains and will worsen if we do nothing. I hope today's politicians will emulate President McKinley, and take the long view of history. In the words of the report's conclusion:

Can we as a Nation continue to remain vulnerable to hurricanes that are an inevitable part of our future, that have demonstrated the capacity to inflict catastrophic damage to our economy, and that kill hundreds of our citizens? The hurricane warning for our Nation has been issued and we must act vigorously and without delay.

I urge you to write your Senators to support S, 4005, the National Hurricane Research Initiative Act of 2006. The public is also invited to email their comments on the report to the National Science Foundation at NSBHSE@nsf.gov before Sunday, October 29, 2006. Those of you in Louisiana and Florida probably do not need to write your Senators--they are definitely on board on this one!

Jeff Masters

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877. pottery
1:34 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
ryang, ask Pilgrim. It was known as the HARP GUN, because part of the poject involved firing a huge WW11 cannon into the night sky with flourescent stuff trailing out, looked like arora borealis, and shook the whole island every time they fired it.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23115
876. Dr. Jeff Masters , Director of Meteorology (Admin)
1:34 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
There's a new blog...

Jeff Masters
875. pottery
1:28 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
ryang my lad. how are you. there used to be a weather research program in barbados in the 60 s, run by McGill university. Called HARP which I think stood for High Altitude Research Proj. or some such thing. Your mission is to find out about it , and in particular the information that was made available on Sahara dust that they collected there. It was located near the airport.
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874. pottery
1:20 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
its strange, but whenever I broach this subject, every body dissapears.
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873. ryang
1:19 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
raining in trinidad
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872. ryang
1:18 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
hi pottery
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871. pottery
1:14 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
also we have to accept that historical data goes out the window, if there are major changes to the geography of land , and changes to atmospheric chemistry. Do you agree?
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23115
870. pottery
1:09 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
cybr, so you are saying that the only thing affecting the weather systems in the atlantic this year would be the temp of the sea in the pacific. I am saying that that the dry air coming out of africa has also played a huge role. Unfortunately, there has been very little research done to back up my argument, but the good news is that for the first time, recently, scientists are looking at the corelation of the dust/weather interaction. We shall see.........
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 23115
869. suenommi
1:01 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
sorry folks! workin on 2 things at once and became possessed lol
868. CybrTeddy
1:00 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
pottry because the EL NINO formed in the middle of the year and they last for 4 months
Its is likley EL NINO is about to peak and then
LA NINA will come in
Happend Last year but way later
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23018
867. pottery
12:56 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
cybeteddy, the only thing that could reduce the dust next year is rain in the sahara. The people there and in the Sudan and such would love that, but it isnt likely.....
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866. suenommi
12:56 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
"philippine news""" target="_blank">Link
865. pottery
12:52 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
baha, why were there no ULL s in the south? Dust cant float about in moist.......
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864. lobcarl
12:49 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Just wondering when the winter weather blog will be up. No snow, but we are getting winter like wind on the coast of maine. Has been gusting 50k or more for the last 36 hours.
863. pottery
12:48 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Sahara dust was first noted in the 1960 s by Jaque Cousteau, in the atlantic. He detirmined it was caused by (among other things) the damming of the Nile at Aswan, and the polution of the Mediteranean. This changed the biological balance of the Med. causing it to warm, causing a rainfall change over north Africa, causing a southward expansion of the Sahara. The column of hot air generated there is lifting dust into the high atmosphere and it is deposited downwind, which is the Atlantic as far as Florida. More later if you want it........
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862. CybrTeddy
12:42 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
pottrey the Dust is soppost to weaken next year
but for some reason NHC says it wil bea an inactive year (Just like we had 12 last year) (or The 19 we had this year)
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23018
861. BahaHurican
12:40 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Don't forget the ULLs . . . they were waiting out there like grist mills for the Twaves . . .
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20744
860. pottery
12:38 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
those "serious" storms only developed when they got far enough north to miss the dust. I'm not saying this is THE reason, but it certainly appears to be a factor.
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859. BahaHurican
12:35 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Why would u assume more dust next year, pottery?
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858. BahaHurican
12:33 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
The thing is, plywood, that we did have serious storms. They just never hit the mainland.

So what u really are asking is "Why are the steering currents and other weather conditions so different this year?"

I think definitely the building el nino influenced the peak of the ATL season. there is plenty documentation of el nino suppression of the ATL season. I don't know what else has been going on over the last 18 months to cause the steering currents to change from last year to this, but it's obvious that a change in the patterns took place.

Another interesting question; is there any climatalogical support for years where many storms made landfall being followed by years when few storms did?
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857. Patrap
12:33 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Nite crab..im going bed..too.
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856. pottery
12:33 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
plywood, my own feeling is that the Atlantic storms this year were generally undone by Sahara Dust ( Read very dry air) that has been more prevalent this year than ever before. Also note that it would seem reasonable to assume that there will be more dust next year than this year.
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855. sandcrab39565
12:27 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Ok nite all all have a good nite and safe tommorrow.
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854. pottery
12:25 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
plywood, I agree, things have fallen apart a bit with 93L, but the south Caribbean is all pretty complex right now. That blob at 11n 61w has been sitting over me here since sat morning, and does not seem to be going anywhere soon. 3" of rain since midnight last night on me, and more in some areas. Not good........
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853. Patrap
12:24 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Thats how far weve come..Sad to hear of those losses...back then.Theres still lots of Living storm Memory around. People never forget those events if youve seen them.Hopefully what we do here..may impact someones decision..to seek safety ..instead of tempting fate,...those in the past..never had our luxury.
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852. BahaHurican
12:20 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
I don't know why, but I don't think the good doctor will update before tomorrow a. m. .. . .

Pat,

I know we have been remarkably fortunate here in the last 80 years or so. The hurricanes of the late 20s and early 30s were really horrendous for the Bahamas. People were generally poorer then, and the storms were not forecast at all. People drowned, were washed out to sea, and practically starved to death afterwards because all their crops and food supplies had been destroyed. I have seen some photos of Nassau after the 1928 hurricane and there was very little left . . . People still talk about 4 storms here 80 years later: 1926, 1928, 1929, 1933.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 20744
851. Patrap
12:19 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
This WUnderground site was out for the event..and now its up and heres the days data..Peak winds here south of Landfall...were 90mph....but im concernd about areas to the North of here...Link
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850. plywoodstatenative
12:19 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
All interesting question. is there a chance that we had no real serious storms this year because of all the systems last year. Can a comparison be done of the temperatures in the ocean this year, comparable to what we saw last year. So basically the thinking of how bad of a year last year was, can anything be learned in comparison to how small of a year we had, and how active the Pacific region was?
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849. plywoodstatenative
12:15 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
speaking of Cimarron, any reports of damage or injury?
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848. plywoodstatenative
12:13 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
well looking at the IR what was convection appears to have fallen apart totally. There is still that blob of something off of the South American Coast, but other than that what was once 93L appears to have fallen apart. So other than the systems in the Pacific, there is no need to do an update on anything in the Atlantic. Also I think that what the models were thinking about in the Caribbean has died out due to the immense amount of dry air that came with that cold front.
Member Since: November 15, 2005 Posts: 16 Comments: 4189
847. sandcrab39565
12:13 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Well Pat one thing learned when you have 2/3ds the Gulf being pushed at you look for 30 foot plus elevation and hang on.lol
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846. Patrap
12:12 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Either that or hes Getting some late morning Phillipines reports and going over the stuff...
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845. Patrap
12:11 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Doc probably watching Football..and getting to it now that the Colts game over....
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844. pottery
12:09 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
why no update from the doc as yet?
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843. Patrap
12:09 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Yeah..ws here in 69..and remeber dad looking and worry about that same Home in Bay St.Louis..His parents were still there then..Katrina was such a ..500 year event I tell most.The Indians have no record of one that scope.So ..Im going with a guy who did the core sample at the 17th St. Canal..He found evidence in a peat cypress layer..in the core samples..That shows a whopper around 1200 years ago here. So..were talking a very rare event now.
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842. pottery
12:06 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
evening all,
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841. Patrap
12:06 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
Colts make Field Goal to take the lead...2 secs left.Another Manning Day.Giants win too..And they say nothing good comes outta New Orleans...LOL!
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840. sandcrab39565
12:04 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
I remember all to well I was in Long Beach for Cammille Katrina had nothing compared to the winds she had and the surge there was bad as well but Katrina just was so big. I was 13 at that time and man that house shook all nite long.
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839. Patrap
12:03 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
If one visits me..I will take them there.Walk them up from the Beach..showing them the normal sea level..Then take them right there..and say Now..Thats what a 28 ft storm surge does...,sobering for sho....
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838. Patrap
12:00 AM GMT on October 30, 2006
You know..thats a good chunk inland..and when it was kicking around 10am that morning here..I was thinking...about the Coast..specially round the Bay St, Louis area Pass Christian..and such..and while me and Nova listening to the wind ramp up..I was reminded of how it looked...after Camille when I was 9.And I started crunching some numbers..about the surge,,adding the land Elevations..and kinda keeping myself occupied..Then I said..well...There in it now too.Them clinging to each other ..and hanging on to the treess and Shrubs..Man..thats deep thought.
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837. sandcrab39565
11:57 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
I sent a runner by chopper over there to locate him.
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836. sandcrab39565
11:56 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
I was on the cell with Brian Adams the director there when their EOC started blowing apart and they headed into the safe room I lost contact at that time and it was 3 days before I could see if he was ok.
Member Since: June 25, 2006 Posts: 36 Comments: 9972
835. Patrap
11:55 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
..Ive coined a new Hurricane Damage word...I call it" Slabatized"...when the structures wiped clean..and theres nothing left but the slab..and a few pipes..sticking out...
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834. Patrap
11:53 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
ANd the Damage in Waveland..like on Waveland Ave on the Beach side of the tracks....and down beach road.The firedog saloon..the antiques shops..the Bridge..all freaking gone...Thats was another time I lost it,,Babbling down 90..back to the other living Hades in color...
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833. Skyepony (Mod)
11:53 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
They recovered a great uncle of mine as well, though he had died years before. He had been a merchant marine, we figured he wanted to be sent back out to sea, so that's how his second burial went down.

Sorry about your cousin Patrap.
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832. sandcrab39565
11:52 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
Thats were we were lucky it came and went but with you guys it came and stayed.
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831. Patrap
11:50 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
You know..Like in the footage you sent me..this water came in..Like Big time..and left as She passed.In the New Orleans area though..it was weird..During the day..we was in the water..and those days went fast...and at Night..You was out of the water..seeing some cat 2 damage ..and the scatttered cat 3 stuff.But in a spookie way..the water got to be..almost normal..Hell...it was normal after 6-8 days...until the Troops arrived en masse..We need a freaking publisher...
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830. sandcrab39565
11:48 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
Dress is unimportant the care is what counts.
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829. Patrap
11:46 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
But ..sand.I tell ya..THose pics of the House...was taken in October..and we didnt Know she passed,caus everyone was still scattered around the country...I got the call from her son..My cousin Casey..the day she was to be buried,2 hours before the Funeral at St,Clare.The only reason he had my number...was because the Day in October..I left a demolition flyer with my new cell.He stopped by the House..saw the Flyer...and called me.Then 5 minutes later my Sister happened to see it in the Obits in SAn ANtonio!..Man..I freaked..Jumped in the Truck dressed for Demolition..and made it to the Funeral...On the Slab of Where St . Clares used to Be...Freaking Amazing Grace...
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828. sandcrab39565
11:43 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
I understand I had about 7.5 around me but it did not stay as long.
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827. Patrap
11:41 PM GMT on October 29, 2006
Still hard to picture this 6ft of water there..man o man....
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About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.