Agency could unify weather response

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DRC file photo
Drivers ignore barricades as water rises on Locust Street in April 2007. Denton County was declared a federal disaster area that year.

Panel proposes that U.S. create commission

A panel of weather experts asked Congress this week to create the first U.S. Weather Commission.

The proposed agency would bring together resources in the public and private sectors to better predict and respond to severe weather. That, in turn, could reduce loss of life and property damage, officials said. The U.S. Weather Commission is modeled, in part, after the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which from 2000 to 2004 made recommendations to better manage coastal resources.

Severe weather cost the nation $52 billion last year, said Tom Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, based in Boulder, Colo. Bogdan was among those on the panel who detailed for members of the House Science Committee the fast-changing weather technology and the challenges needed to apply it in daily life.

Years ago, being able to predict a hurricane’s path three days in advance was considered good, Bogdan said. Now, research is accurately predicting a path seven days in advance, he said.

The weather commission could help with the swifter transfer of research knowledge to the field, he said.

“Imagine having a week’s notice to evacuate,” Bogdan said.

More time to prepare also means more time to mitigate damage and make a faster recovery, Bogdan said.

But that better coordination and sharing of weather data and technology could do more than help with the losses from hurricanes, Bogdan said. It could also help business logistics, so that a trucking company, for example, doesn’t lose an expensive shipment of medicine because it didn’t have good information about an incoming snowstorm.

Texas sees some of the biggest weather losses in the nation because the state is vulnerable not only to hurricanes and tornadoes, but also to damaging thunderstorms, drought and wildfires. Some of the losses come from big-ticket items like Hurricane Ike, which cost about $12 billion in 2010, and last year’s hailstorm in Dallas, which saw between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in insurance claims.

Denton County also has seen some big wind and water losses in the past five years, according to Texas Department of Insurance data obtained in an open-records request. Wind and water claims in 2011 topped $418 million, due in part to catastrophic hailstorms. By comparison, 2010 saw the least wind and water claims in the past five years, but the total was still more than $47.4 million.

Researchers at the University of North Texas have looked at ways to limit damage from natural disasters, said Terry Clower, professor of applied economics.

“An agency that improves our ability to predict the weather is great, but what I’d want to see is a return-on-investment analysis,” he said.

The agency would have its own expenses in order to get up and running. Ultimately, the commission’s work should yield cost savings, not just a stronger voice for spending on projects Congress already knows the country needs, Clower said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com.


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