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Florida senators push for more hurricane-research funds


WASHINGTON — Florida’s two senators Tuesday renewed a push to boost funding for research into predicting, modeling and preventing damage from hurricanes.

“After Katrina, you’d think the government would be doing more to get ready for the next big one,” Sen. Bill Nelson said.

Along with Sen. Mel Martinez, Nelson is sponsoring legislation to provide $375 million to bolster research into the causes and intensity of big storms, as well as ways to lessen the loss of life and property damage. “This is very much connected to the future of our state as we look at the economic damage that can occur,” said Martinez.

Martinez noted that the National Science Board estimated that hurricanes between 2002 and 2007 caused $180 billion in losses, compared to $14 billion from earthquakes, “yet there isn’t a nationally-targeted research initiative for hurricanes” like there is for earthquakes.

And he noted that U.S. research could benefit other countries that are hammered by tropical storms but “really have a lot less wherewithal to deal with these problems.”

Kelvin K. Droegemeier, co-chairman of a National Science Board task force that in January 2007 called for a national hurricane research initiative, said hurricane research is a “modest, loosely coordinated enterprise.”

He said that the disparity between research on earthquakes and hurricanes prompted the science board to call for the national effort. He said the research community wants to look at hurricanes “not just as a weather problem, but bringing in social, behavioral sciences, the economic sciences. . . . We’re looking at predicting a hurricane as a complete, total problem for society, not just as a weather event.”

The science of determining where a hurricane will make landfall has improved, said Richard Spinrad, an administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But research into the intensity of hurricanes still falls short, he said.

“We have recognized that in order to do our part . . . we need to enhance our research investments specifically to improve the intensity forecasts,” Spinrad said.

The agency in the next month plans to send up balloons in areas where hurricanes initially form to see if the information can sharpen NOAA’s ability to forecast the intensity of storms, Spinrad said.