From the ABC 7 Weather team

How can the U.S. prepare for more billion-dollar weather disasters?

December 5, 2011 - 02:18 PM
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Weather disasters in 2011 have caused more than $50 billion dollars in damage and about 1,000 fatalities. How can we help prevent this in the future?

Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, discusses how to prepare for the kind of $1 billion weather disasters that have marked 2011 as a year of extremes. At right: NWS public affairs director Chris Vaccaro. (Dec. 5, 2011.)

This morning I was at a meeting with Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service. This has been a year of unprecedented weather extremes, with now 10 to 14 (depending on the source) billion-dollar weather disasters. The total economic and human impact is more than $50 billion dollars with about 1,000 lives lost.

The weather service began a program earlier this year to build a “weather-ready” nation. According to the agency, the goals of this program are to create:

• Improved precision of weather and water forecasts and effective communication of risk to local authorities;

• Improved weather decision support services with new initiatives such as the development of mobile-ready emergency response specialist teams;

• Innovative science and technological solutions such as the nationwide implementation of Dual Pol radar technology, Integrated Water Resources Science and Services, and the Joint Polar Satellite System;

• Strengthening joint partnerships to enhance community preparedness;

• Working with weather enterprise partners and the emergency management community to enhance safety and economic output and effectively manage environmental resources.

One of the key points of this program is that a true “weather-ready” nation has to involve all players and sectors of the “Weather Enterprise,” an idea I’ve written about before.

The great improvement in the forecast of everything from tornadoes and snow storms to floods and droughts will not help the public without a coordinated effort by everyone involved to effectively communicate weather information and forecasts. Such communication is necessary to allow the public, as well as the government, make the best decisions when it comes to weather planning and emergency preparedness.

In a world of changing climate, increasing population and more people living in extreme-weather areas, lives are still being lost and governments are still reeling with the staggering economic costs of natural disasters. Helping minimize this suffering is a lofty but attainable goal. Everything from buying cheap hurricane tie straps to making better-communicated forecasts and warnings will help the nation improve its readiness. However, Hayes’ message is that it’s not only the responsibility of the government. Everyone, from we in communication to NWS forecasters to emergency managers to elected officials (and to you, the person in the street) have a role and interest in making ours a real “weather-ready” nation.

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