- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane forecasting and research improvements — including a new “hurricane hunter” airplane — are part of a Bush administration proposal to provide an additional $55 million this year for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lawmakers and weather specialists said Sunday that the infusion of money is essential in the aftermath of a record-setting hurricane season that has included such killer storms as Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

“These past 14 months has been a wake-up call for anyone who lives along the Gulf or Atlantic Coast,” said Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican. “This is money well-spent.”

The White House included the $55 million in NOAA upgrades in a proposal released Friday that would shift $17.1 billion from Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-relief accounts into such things as rebuilding damaged highways, repairing levees and fixing government buildings.

The plan, which provides a one-time cash infusion, requires approval from Congress.

Researchers and forecasters have complained that the level of spending on hurricane-related programs is far lower than it should be, with many agencies lacking adequate staff and being forced to use outdated or broken equipment.

Bob Sheets, former director of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, said the damage and deaths caused by major hurricanes this year have demonstrated the value of accurate hurricane forecasts.

Improved accuracy also has an economic effect by reducing unnecessary evacuations and ensuring that people in a storm’s path take steps to protect property from storm damage, he said.

“Once you get the attention of the public, you get the attention of the politicians,” said Mr. Sheets, now retired in Lake Placid, Fla. “There are some things that can be done that are not prohibitive in costs, and maybe some priority can be placed there.”

One big-ticket item in the request would be the purchase of another P-3 Orion “hurricane hunter” aircraft, said the White House Office of Management and Budget.

NOAA has three aircraft — two 1970s-era, propeller-driven P-3s and one high-altitude Gulfstream IV jet — stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

The White House request also would provide money to establish backup power and communications to coastal weather stations, repair damaged weather buoys and automated weather sites, and upgrade forecasting instruments for hurricanes, storm surge and flooding.

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