Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Improving Tropical Cyclone Intensity Forecasts should be a bigger priority

[National Hurricane Center director Bill] Read said he's satisfied for now with the $3 million the government is spending this year for research into improving intensity forecasts. 
Ah... isn't that about 4 minutes of the Occupation of Iraq? It's nice to have a billion-dollar-a-day boondoggle to compare things to. You could buy every man, woman and child ice cream every day for less than the cost of our Middle East misadventures.

On the one hand, improving hurricane intensity forecasts would save the government much more than $3M/year. On the other...
Predicting a storm's intensity is much harder for meteorologists than estimating where it will go. Since 1990, forecasters have reduced by more than half their errors in predicting a storm's path, but over the same time the accuracy of their intensity forecasts has remained virtually unchanged."To really get after that you're talking tens of millions of dollars, if not more, to reach an ambitious goal," Read said. "We've made a steady gain in the improvement of the track forecasts, and we haven't figured out how to do that yet for rapid intensification."
That could take between five and 10 years, he said.

So, say there's some thing I don't know how to do. Say, build a pocket desalinator for seawater. Or train parrots to defuse bombs. I estimate it'll cost me tens of millions of dollars, if not more, and between five and 10 years. Heck, I'll stop Climate Change, although any beneficial effects will take place after my tenure as director. It's not like the NHC is going to spent $50 million dollars on a hurricane intensity forecasting widget and install it over the course of the next decade. They currently have no idea what'll work.

But, the government should be spending money and time on getting an idea of what will work.

update:I've thought more about this. And, running water is nice and all, but isn't the primary benefit of living in a technological civilization that we can predict the weather?


nephos said...

Yeah, a few million isn't a ton, but see, throwing more money can improve the situation, but it can also make it worse, by enabling scientific production of a ton of crap that makes it even harder than it already is to find the gems in the rough.

Take the toy industry: throwing countless billions at it such that Chinese manufacturers can increase their toy output hasn't obviously increased the toy enjoyment index, and may have in fact decreased the value of truly enjoyable toys by making them impossible to find among all the plastic.

There are metrics for evaluating forecasting skill. It would be interesting to match the improvement rate against the funding rate.

Rionn Fears Malechem said...

Maybe a John McCain style "XPrize" program, then? Or... management?