Hurricane forecasting has improved substantially in the past century, largely due to weather satellites and computer models. The subcommittee hearing will examine the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) two new tools for the upcoming hurricane season: storm surge watches and warnings and maps of potential storm surges. The director of the NHC will testify on these tools and efforts to improve hurricane path forecasts and the ability to predict a hurricane’s intensity.
Dr. Rick Knabb, Director of the National Hurricane Center
* Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
2:00 p.m. ET
Senate Russell Building 253
Witness testimony, opening statements, and a livestream will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
Senator Marco Rubio
At 6:30 on the morning of September 26, 1955, the Jacksonville, Florida-based crew of the Snowcloud Five departed Guantanamo, Cuba for Category Four Hurricane Janet.
The aircraft and eleven brave lives were lost to the storm. Hurricane Janet then went on to hit the Yucatan peninsula, with a death toll numbering over five hundred.
As a current NOAA Corps hurricane hunter pilot tells it, when folks ask him if he’s crazy, he just answers, “You’re worth it.” The dedicated officers of the NOAA Corps and the scientists their planes carry are passionate.
And even after the tragedy of the Snowcloud Five, NOAA employees continue to brave the elements to provide severe weather warnings.
So as a senator from the state with the most hurricane strikes in the U.S. mainland, I am deeply appreciative of the work of our witness, the National Hurricane Center, the NOAA Corps hurricane hunters, and the Hurricane Research Division. And I’m proud that each of these entities call Florida home.
Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure to get my hands on technology that can extend the impressive reach of the NOAA hurricane hunters.
Did you know that the hunters fly as low as 1500 feet in these storms?
They do that because the lowest levels of a hurricane—called the boundary layer where the storm meets the ocean—provide critical information about what the storm is going to do. Hurricanes are fueled by warm ocean water. And yesterday, we got to see the hunter’s new partner: a hurricane drone called “The Coyote.” NOAA will deploy eight of these drones—made by Raytheon—during the upcoming hurricane season, which officially starts next week. The Coyote can fly as far as 50 miles away from the hurricane hunter airplane gathering important data about the storm, and especially, about the boundary layer.
Dr. Knabb, I hope you won’t take offense when I say that I hope your job is very boring this year. We’ve been spared from “the big one” for several years now.
Though I hope that trend continues, I also realize that it’s only a matter of time. And we have to be ready.
After the horrific series of storms in 2005—Katrina, Rita, and Wilma—it became clear that our ability to forecast the intensity of a hurricane was not up to par. So several expert reports recommended that we invest $85 million a year for the next 10 years to improve the forecasts.
Seven years ago this month, NOAA formally established the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project.
The five-year goal of the project to reduce average track and intensity errors by 20% has been met. And that’s no small feat. Research within NOAA and at places like the University of Miami has significantly improved our ability to predict where a hurricane will go and how strong it will be.
But proposed budget cuts by the administration threaten the ten-year goal of the program. This is unacceptable.
That’s why Senator Rubio and I filed legislation to codify the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project. This program is about saving lives and property from one of the most fatal natural disasters.
And we simply cannot afford to be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to hurricanes.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew claimed 26 lives—15 in Florida alone—and left more than 160,000 Dade County residents homeless. Its economic cost to the United States was over $25 billion dollars.
Hurricane Katrina was responsible for 1833 deaths and $108 billion in damages.
And as Ranking Member Booker knows too well, Superstorm Sandy took 147 lives, damaged at least 650,000 houses, and left 8.5 million customers without power.
So I appreciate Senator Rubio for calling this hearing today. We can’t afford to look in the rearview mirror and wish we had invested more in the science.
Thanks Dr. Knabb for all you do to help us prepare for and avoid the devastation that comes with hurricanes.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. Rick KnabbDirectorNational Hurricane Center