NOAA Magazine || NOAA Home Page


NOAA satellite image of Hurricane Katrina taken at 11:45 a.m. EDT on August 28, 2005, when the storm brewed into a Category 5 hurricane before devastating the U.S. Gulf Coast.March 6, 2007 Federal agencies involved in hurricane research 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 in New Orleans. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of Hurricane Katrina taken at 11:45 a.m. EDT on August 28, 2005, when the storm brewed into a Category 5 hurricane before devastating the U.S. Gulf Coast. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

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.

“Coastal population growth and land development have resulted in a dramatic rise in the potential damage that can be inflicted by tropical cyclones,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “In our country, 50 percent 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.”

Annual U.S. hurricane losses currently average about $10 billion. There is a projected doubling of economic losses from landfalling hurricanes every ten 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 March 9. 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.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

Relevant Web Sites
Interagency Strategic Research Plan for Tropical Cyclones

61st Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference

NOAA Hurricanes Portal

Media Contact:
Kent Laborde, NOAA, (202) 482-5757