Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Hurricane Center was targetted by the budget knife

We have seen the disastrous effects of budget cuts in terms of both the prevention of great destruction, and the ineffective response in the aftermath, of Hurricane Katrina. Recently I have blogged on the budget cuts at the Center for Disease Control as the world collectively prays that the bird flu virus won't undergo the few mutations needed to create a pandemic.

It turns out now, however, with a new monster hurricane (tying records as the 21st named storm and 12th hurricane of the season, and breaking the record for the lowest pressure) out there threatening Florida, that budget cuts, beginning during the Reagan administration and continuing through decades since have also hit the National Hurricane Center hard, compromising its ability to both monitor, forecast and warn people in the path of these storms.

MIAMI - Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center have struggled for more than a decade to issue accurate storm reports using broken equipment, an overbooked airplane fleet and tight budgets, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Key forecasting equipment used by the center has broken down or been unavailable for nearly half of the 45 hurricanes that have struck land since 1992, The Miami Herald found after an eight-month investigation.

“It’s almost like we’re forecasting blind,” said Pablo Santos, a science officer at the National Weather Service’s Miami office, which assists the hurricane center during storms. “We’ve never really had the equipment to do it"....

The equipment problems include broken devices such as data-transmitting buoys, weather balloons, radar installations and ground sensors, as well as hurricane hunting airplanes that are overbooked and unavailable to fly weather-observation missions.

“We need help,” (Hurricane Center director Max) Mayfield said. “We need more observation (equipment). There’s no question.”

Now, these problems go back decades, so it would be unfair to wholly fault the Bush administration. However, what we do see is a consistent pattern.

Those who want to shrink government have had the upper hand in budgetting since the days of Ronald Reagan and David Stockman. Even when Democrats were in control, they would cut budgets because of the fact that they would be attacked for raising taxes if they sought instead to pay for things like this. A lack of backbone aside, apparently it never crossed their mind to follow the 'have your cake AND eat it' solution that we have seen from the Bush administration, borrowing enormous sums of money mostly from foreign bankers, and especially the Chinese to fund things like the Medicare prescription drug sop to the pharmaceutical industry and the Iraq war while making token cuts in other programs. These token cuts however have had a profound effect in, as we see, more and more areas. And I will say this about Democrats who voted for the budget cuts for the National Hurricane Center. In many cases I hold them more responsible than Republicans. This is because twenty years ago, computer models of global warming forecast that Atlantic hurricanes would become more numerous and more powerful in the future. That future arrived with a vengeance last year in Florida and this year along the Gulf Coast. At least Republicans could use the excuse that they were blinded by ideology. But progressives knew this was coming, and if they voted to cut the budget of the Hurricane Center then they deserve a pox on their house.

The problem is with people whose first impulse is to cut funds. I have no problem with auditing agencies like these to make sure that money is not being wasted, but the people (mostly Republicans) who have over the years used waste as an excuse to slash budgets across the board have now caused much of our Federal government to waste away to the point of ineffectiveness.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Too many screwed up priorities. It's crazy. I guess common sense just isn't so common.