With an emphasis on upgrading hurricane prediction technology and landfall probability, federal agencies involved in hurricane research said Tuesday that they have mapped out the future of hurricane forecasting capabilities in the publication "Interagency Strategic Research Plan for Tropical Cyclones: The Way Ahead."

Released Monday at the 61st Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference (IHC) in New Orleans, the plan focuses on areas within the field of hurricane-related sciences that were identified as needing research and then transferring this research into operations. The plan was put together by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research (OFCM).

"Coastal population growth and land development have resulted in a dramatic rise in the potential damage that can be inflicted by tropical cyclones," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "In our country, 50% of the population lives within 50 miles of the coast and are, therefore, exposed to landfalling hurricanes. Tropical cyclones can have catastrophic impacts, which make constant improvements in the accurate prediction of these events of paramount importance."

After getting a free pass last year with less activity than expected, the U.S. Gulf and East coasts could be looking at a storm season more on par with the devastating one seen in 2005 due to the potential arrival of a La Nina event, NOAA said last week (see Daily GPI, March 1).

According to NOAA, annual U.S. hurricane losses currently average about $10 billion and there is a projected doubling of economic losses from landfalling hurricanes every 10 years. Cyclone track forecasting has improved significantly during recent decades. Emergency management and other end-user responses to these improved forecasts and warnings result in lives saved, as well as reduction of property damage, physical injuries and psychological distress. In a typical hurricane season, forecasts, warnings and associated responses are estimated to save $3 billion.

The strategic research plan is the outgrowth of actions resulting from the 58th IHC in March 2004, where attendees determined that a comprehensive strategy needed to be developed to guide interagency research and development. The plan highlights that the needs can be characterized by seven tropical cyclone-related, day-to-day operational forecast and warning categories or a combination of these categories: intensity, structure, track, sea state, storm surge, precipitation and observations. This plan addresses each of these categories, and provides recommendations and strategies to be implemented over the next decade to meet those needs.

"The ultimate goal is to prevent loss of life and injuries and to reduce the nation's vulnerability to these potentially devastating storms," said Samuel P. Williamson, federal coordinator for meteorology. "We conducted a thorough review of our current capabilities in tropical cyclone forecasting and outlined strategies to meet the operational needs of the tropical cyclone forecast and warning centers. This strategic research plan is how we plan to bridge the gap between current and future capabilities."

The strategic research plan presents a comprehensive strategy that was developed over the past two years by the staff at OFCM and the Joint Action Group for Tropical Cyclone Research. The authors of the plan began by reviewing the tropical cyclone research and development community and examined the current capabilities and limitation of the nation's tropical cyclone forecast and warning system. They summarized the operational needs of the tropical cyclone forecast and warning centers, and planned capabilities to meet the needs.

With these identified needs in mind, the strategic research plan identifies tropical cyclone research priorities to aid in meeting the operational needs, and presents a comprehensive roadmap of activities to further improve the effectiveness of the nation's tropical cyclone forecast and warning service during the next decade and beyond.

The strategic research plan makes recommendations for improved tropical cyclone reconnaissance, surveillance and observation through manned and unmanned vehicles, space-based platforms, remote sensing and other forms.

In addition to identifying research that is required in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences, the strategic research plan also includes areas of research that are needed in social sciences to include the warning process, decision making, behavioral response, and social impacts. The report states that "knowledge gains in the social, economic and decision sciences will lead to the implementation of better response strategies, and can help set priorities as to where increased research would be most beneficial."

Implementation of the plan will be discussed at the IHC, which is scheduled to last through Friday. After the conclusion of the IHC, an OFCM-sponsored working group with representation from all applicable agencies will be formed to begin implementing the recommendations, to include identifying funding strategies.

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