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, multi-agency 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.
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Hurricane-related losses in the U.S. 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.
NOAA officials had no immediate comment.
Along with the report, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., was introducing legislation to enact its recommendations. 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.
While the three-day forecast track of hurricanes has dramatically improved in the last 50 years, the report said researchers need to understand how quickly storms intensify and grow before they can better predict how strong a hurricane will be when it strikes land.
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 within 24 hours after landfall.
"Given the enormous cost associated with hurricanes, we ought to better coordinate research and information about hurricane prediction, observation, the vulnerability of structures and how we might develop better evacuation plans," Martinez said.
The initiative would link research models from various scientific fields to understand the complexities of hurricanes, and would establish a National Infrastructure Database to develop engineering standards and quantify structural losses.
The National Science Board is an independent advisory body to the president and Congress on national science and engineering policy. It also oversees the National Science Foundation.