Hurricane Research Funds Being Shortchanged?

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Residents along Florida’s eastern panhandle were unprepared for the 12-foot storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Dennis. Florida State University meteorology professor Jim O'Brien blames outdated equipment and a lack of investment in critical research by the federal government.

Jim O’Brien says, "There's no technical barrier at all to doing storm surge correct.
Unfortunately, the model that's being used at the Hurricane Forecast Center is very old and needs to be replaced with modern ideas."

But there have been only minimal increases in the hurricane research budget at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over the past 20 years. Former employees say old computers and staffing shortages are keeping lifesaving research just out of reach.

It's critical to have the most accurate forecasts possible for the folks at the state Emergency Operations Center. This is where evacuation plans for the entire state are coordinated.

Director Craig Fugate says hurricane track forecasting has improved.

Craig Fugate says, "But our ability to forecast storms that rapidly intensify and grow in size as well as those that may weaken before they hit could mean the difference between not moving people soon enough or far enough in a major threat."

FSU professor Jay Baker says a relatively small investment in new technology could save lives and millions, even billions of dollars.

Jay says, “There's actually been some cost benefit analysis done on how much it costs to improve the forecast, and that sort of thing, and the payoff is tremendous."

Hurricane experts hope Congress is listening. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research division in Miami has stacks of tapes documenting the paths of hurricanes dating back more than 25 years.

But researchers don’t have the time or manpower to study them. Experts don’t know whether that information could have made a difference in forecasting this year’s deadly storms.