Natural Hazards Opinion

Proposed Federal Budget Heightens Hurricane Risk

The health, welfare, and livelihood of millions depend upon our elected officials’ continued and robust support for hurricane research.

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For much of the country, the first day of June kicks off summer, a time to enjoy warm temperatures and outdoor activities. However, today also marks the start of the Atlantic hurricane season, when the safety, security, and economies of many coastal communities are threatened by severe weather.

Thanks to scientists working at federal science agencies and offices—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Society (USGS), NASA, and others—we are increasingly able to accurately predict and track severe storms, as well as deliver advance warning to communities in a storm’s path. It is imperative that we continue to provide these agencies with the resources needed to ensure that vulnerable coastal communities remain secure, protected, and responsive to severe weather events.

Sadly, the Trump administration is failing in prioritizing important hurricane research and prediction efforts. This lack of emphasis will likely increase our nation’s risk of hurricane damage in the years to come.

Scientists Provide a Watchful Eye

The impacts of hurricanes can be devastating. Since 1980, the United States has sustained 208 weather and climate disasters in which overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. Hurricane Katrina alone, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, resulted in more than $200 billion in losses and 1200 deaths. Some 123.3 million people—nearly 39% of the total U.S. population—and more than $10 trillion in coastal property are located less than 1.2 meters above local high-tide levels, making these communities particularly vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and destruction of critical infrastructure.

Aerial view showing rising flood waters threatening downtown New Orleans following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
Aerial view showing rising flood waters threatening downtown New Orleans, including the Super Dome, following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, resulting in more than $200 billion in losses and 1200 deaths. Credit: Jeremy L. Grisham/U.S. Navy, CC BY SA 2.0

Scientists working for federal science agencies and organizations supported through federal grants work collaboratively to provide timely, accurate research and resources to help protect communities and build resilience to extreme weather, including hurricanes. NOAA’s National Weather Service plays a vital role in predicting, mitigating, and monitoring hurricanes and warning vulnerable communities through the National Hurricane Center. NOAA scientists also collaborate with USGS and regional weather offices to create detailed forecasts of wave-induced water levels. NASA Earth Science produces data that forecasters can use to improve their ability to predict and forecast hurricanes and other natural hazards. Research supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Geoscience Directorate enables preparation for, mitigation of, and adaptation to the effects of these and other disruptive natural events.

Thin Budgets for Hurricane Research and Preparedness

By failing to provide adequate resources for key programs in these agencies, the Trump administration’s initial budget for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) fails to prioritize the work these agencies conduct in protecting the U.S. populace and overlooks the very real return on investment that these agencies provide.

For example, the FY18 budget calls for NOAA to zero out more than $250 million in grants and programs that support coastal and marine management, research, and education, cuts that would significantly damage our ability to prepare for and forecast hurricanes and tropical cyclones. Many of the programs funded by NASA Earth Science—including the innovative Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles that fly into the eyes of cyclones, which have helped push the boundaries of hurricane research and monitoring—are to be cut by $121 million, or 6.3%.

Lack of Funding Increases Risk

As history has shown us time and time again, the threats that hurricanes pose to the health and welfare of coastal communities are real, potentially devastating, and long lasting. The administration and Congress must act decisively to fund the life-saving work of scientists at federal agencies like NOAA, NSF, USGS, and NASA at levels that are strengthened, not diminished.

The health, welfare, and livelihood of millions depend upon our elected officials’ continued and robust support for these critical agencies. Without this support, we effectively increase our risk of hurricanes causing damage, destruction, and even death.

—Chris McEntee (email: [email protected]), Executive Director/CEO, American Geophysical Union

Citation: McEntee, C. (2017), Proposed federal budget heightens hurricane risk, Eos, 98, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017EO074983. Published on 01 June 2017.
© 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0