The Bush Administration 2009 budget includes $17 million for an aggressive NOAA plan to accelerate improvements to our hurricane forecasting improvements. If approved by Congress, this funding for NOAA’s Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project (HFIP) would be used in four main areas: to increase hurricane observations; advance forecast models through research, development and engineering; increase computing power; and enhance collaboration with hurricane scientists in the private sector, government, and universities to advance research and operations.
Specific advancements outlined in the plan include: improving hurricane track forecast accuracy by 20% out to 5 days by 2013; improving hurricane intensity forecast accuracy by 20% out to 5 days by 2013; and eventually extending the lead time for hurricane forecasts out to 7 days. Additional information can be found at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/20080811_hurricanebudget.html.
Today provides an excellent example of why this funding is needed. The National Hurricane Center forecasters are currently monitoring reconnaissance aircraft data coming in from the broad area of low pressure centered about 550 miles east of the Lesser Antilles. This morning’s GFDL (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab) model run initialized at 1200 UTC (8:00 am EDT) shows this low developing into a 100+ knot (115+ mph) Category 3 hurricane centered over the southeastern Bahamas in 126 hours. At the same time, the HWRF (Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast) model run initialized at the same time shows a 35 knot (40 mph) minimal tropical storm centered over the southeastern Bahamas in 126 hours. How would you like to be the forecaster faced with these two options? The GFDL and HWRF are the two most sophisticated operational hurricane models available to the NHC forecasters. Obviously, they both can’t be right. The HFIP funding would go a long way toward ultimately giving better guidance to forecasters. The way it is now, the folks in the Bahamas (and possibly South Florida) don’t know whether to prepare for a major hurricane or a very minimal tropical storm based on the current guidance.