A landmark hurricane research project that improved forecasts by 20 percent in five years is facing more budget cuts as the federal government seeks to “slow the development” of the program after a decade with no major hurricane landfalls.
In its fiscal year 2017 budget request, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said it plans to reduce its investment in the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project, which was launched in response to the record storm seasons of 2004 and 2005.
The program was originally given $13 million annually beginning in 2009. That was cut to $4.8 million last year and is expected to be further reduced to $3.8 million as focus turns to a broader array of prediction products that will refine all hazardous weather forecasts, said NOAA spokesman David Miller.
A $2 million reduction has also been requested to forgo future research and development for computing capacity as NOAA “reduces its investment” in the project.
“As noted in our Congressional Justification language, we are proposing to refocus research-to-operations efforts from separate regional and application specific modeling and forecast improvements — such as hurricanes — to an integrated holistic approach,” Miller said. “The benefits gained will affect all forecast products, including hurricanes.”
Before the project, hurricane track forecasts improved on average only a few percent per year with intensity predictions improving a fraction of a percent.
Since 2010 when research began with the project, or HFIP, track and intensity forecasts improved an average of 5 percent per year.
The National Hurricane Center referred calls about HFIP cuts to the National Weather Service, which falls under NOAA.
But in past interviews with The Palm Beach Post, James Franklin, chief of the center’s hurricane specialists unit, stressed the importance of the project and said cuts would negatively affect improvements.
“You go 30 years and no one wants to spend money on hurricane prediction and then you have all the 2004 and 2005 storms,” Franklin said last year in an interview for a story about forecast changes since Hurricane Katrina. “It would be a shame for the progress we are starting to make to be cut back and slow.”