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Hurricanes
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Hurricane Science and Engineering

The devastation resulting from hurricanes is significant and widespread, including but not limited to loss of life, dislocation and destruction of families, and economic consequences having national reach and lasting impact. Despite this enormous tragedy, it is important to note that severe, hurricane-related loss of life and property are by no means unique to this year. Given that 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 200 miles of a coastline, and that the built infrastructure in these regions continues to expand, the U.S. increasingly is vulnerable to hurricanes. However, two important questions have never to our knowledge been adequately addressed: First, to what extent does the Nation understand the hurricane as an integrated science and engineering problem? Second, how can such understanding be used to improve the Nation's ability to predict, mitigate and react? The relevance of these questions transcends U.S. borders as numerous other nations routinely deal with hurricanes and typhoons.

It is appropriate for the National Science Board to engage a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary dialog aimed at answering elements of the questions posed above. This effort is intended to focus on the "hurricane problem" in a more holistic manner than employed to date. Physical, social, behavioral, economic, biological, ecological, information technology and other appropriate sciences, as well as engineering (e.g., civil, environmental, mechanical) disciplines, will be considered as part of a truly integrative approach to address deep fundamental science questions regarding hurricanes as natural disasters. Given its national independent advisory role to the President and Congress, the Board is uniquely and ideally suited to framing this challenge and recommending a national agenda.

The need for understanding hurricanes in a broad context is made clear when one examines hurricane-related research conducted during the past decade. For the most part it has existed as a relatively modest, loosely coordinated enterprise that encompasses topics ranging from basic research in hurricane dynamics and atmospheric and hydrologic numerical prediction to human behavior and economic impacts. Although the quality of this research is quite high, much of it is performed within the boundaries of traditional disciplines whereas in reality, the hurricane is an exemplar multidisciplinary integrative problem.

Recent events have shown us that, although the U.S. possesses the most powerful research enterprise, the largest economy, and the most sophisticated societal infrastructure in the world, it remains notably vulnerable to natural hazards. Future land-falling hurricanes of tremendous destructive potential are inevitable. Thus, the research community owes to its fellow citizens - in this and future generations - a serious effort to maximize scientific understanding of hurricanes and ensure its effective application for the protection of life and property.


Related Reports
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nsb06115 Hurricane Warning: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative

Related Committees
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Workshop Presentations
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Agency Websites and Reports
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Windstorm Impact Legislation and Related Resources
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National Academies' Publications
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University and Professional Society Websites and Reports
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R. N. Hoffman, J. M. Henderson, S. M. Leidner, C. Grassotti and T. Nehrkorn, The Response of Damaging Winds of a Simulated Tropical Cyclone to Finite-Amplitude Perturbations of Different Variables, Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, pages 1924-1937, Vol 63, July 2006

 

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National Science Board
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Last Updated:
Jul 31, 2009
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