WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Science Board, an independent 24-member body of policy advisors to the President and Congress on matters of science and engineering research, proposed a major new research effort as it released a draft report, Hurricane Warning: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative. The draft report, available online, states that relative to the tremendous damage and suffering caused by hurricanes, the federal investment in hurricane science and engineering is insufficient, and warns that "time is not on our side." The report recommends a major increase in federal investments for hurricane research—as much as $300 million in additional yearly spending—as part of a new, multi-agency national research effort.

According to the Board, hurricanes and tropical storms that made U.S. landfall from 2001-2005 cost the lives of many citizens and led to losses of private homes and businesses, as well as environmental and property damage, amounting to $179 billion (constant 2006 dollars). The losses alone from four hurricanes and tropical storms that hit Florida and the East in 2004, and from Hurricane Katrina and other storms in 2005, were estimated to be at least $168 billion (constant dollars).

The draft report says that the overall economic costs associated with hurricanes striking the mainland are growing at a much higher rate than the investments made in creating and generating new knowledge about these kinds of storms. The report also indicates that more focused and coordinated use of research funds could serve to reduce large emergency public outlays and avoid loss of life and social disruption generated by such catastrophic events.

Kenneth M. Ford, co-chairman of the Science Board task force charged with studying the need for an expanded hurricane science and engineering research agenda, said the new report recommends essential new investments in the following:

  • prediction of hurricanes to improve warnings to local officials and the general population;
  • research toward new construction and infrastructure technologies; and
  • understanding in greater detail the social and economic implications associated with these storms to provide better assistance to affected populations.

In September 2005, a Board ad hoc task group recommended the formation of a Task Force on Hurricane Science and Engineering to evaluate the need for a more broad and integrated research effort on hurricanes. Its charge was to assess current understanding of these events, recommend how to address deep fundamental scientific questions, and recommend research priorities and an agenda that would cut across federal and other research organizations.

"A need exists to better understand the complex societal and economic impacts of hurricanes, including information dissemination before landfall, short and long-term economic impacts and the delivery of assistance to people affected by hurricanes," said Kelvin K. Droegemeier, a University of Oklahoma Regents’ professor of meteorology and co-chairman of the Board task force. "We need to know more about the effect of wind and water on levees, buildings and critical infrastructure, making it more resistant to damage and more accommodating to reconstruction. They key to this initiative is studying the hurricane in an integrative manner that cuts across disciplinary and organizational boundaries and stimulates the application of new knowledge in tangible ways."

"The initiative should also serve to create an interdisciplinary hurricane research community of experts internationally," Droegemeier said. He also said the report is proposing a National Hurricane Research Test Bed where science and engineering disciplines would come together to test new ideas in end-to-end systems and facilitate transfer of results to operations. The report also recommended creating a National Infrastructure Data Base that will help facilitate research, provide a baseline for developing standards, and serve as a resource for public policy makers.