get your storm on
Let the Borgnines fall!
This year's Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1, is expected to be far more active than normal.
That's according to three forecasting groups, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released its seasonal forecast Tuesday.
They anticipate as many as 17 tropical storms this year, of which 10 could form hurricanes. Up to five of those could become intense hurricanes, with maximum sustained winds of more than 111 miles an hour and storm surges at least nine feet above normal.
"We're in an active era that started in 1995," said Gerry Bell, the lead meteorologist for NOAA's seasonal forecasts. Historically, these active periods last from 25 to 40 years. So "there's a high probability of an above-normal season this year," he said.
Another group, led by the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College of London, estimates that between June and November, enough hurricanes will hit the US coast to vault the season into the top third of active seasons.
The seasonal outlooks come at a time of some angst – and urgency – regarding the future of research aimed at improving forecasts of individual storms.
During Tuesday's briefing, NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher Jr. highlighted the $300 million the US is spending to support hurricane research and operational forecasting.
Last week, however, the National Hurricane Center's director publicly chided his bosses at NOAA headquarters in Washington for cutting the National Weather Service's research budget. According to NOAA officials in Washington, the agency is spending some $1.5 million over two years on activities to celebrate 200 years of federally funded science research.
The costs of those celebrations equal the cuts the weather service faces in its severe-storm research program, according to an analysis earlier this month by Kei Koizumi, the budget guru at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
NOAA's research portfolio as a whole is being cut by nearly 10 percent over 2007's allotment. Many of the cuts result from Congress's decision to forgo earmarks, in which lawmakers can funnel money toward research projects federal agencies may or may not have on their wish lists.
The need for increased hurricane research is outlined in a report from the National Research Council in January that argues for a sustained, coordinated national hurricane research initiative.
These storms present the most costly natural hazards the country faces, notes Roger Lukas, a topical-cyclone researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "The amount of damage hurricanes inflict is 10 times that of earthquakes," he says. "But funding for hurricane research is about one-tenth of the money spent on earthquake research."
It seems that research into highly ironic phenomena continues apace at NOAA...