In the wake of Hurricane Irene, which caused billions of dollars in damages up and down the U.S.’s eastern seaboard, House Republicans are callously claiming that any aid to victims of the disaster needs to be offset by budget cuts elsewhere. The savings favored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) would come from cuts to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and first responders.
However, if House Republicans get their way, not only will recovering from the effects of Hurricane Irene be more difficult, but so will monitoring incoming hurricanes in general. As the Associated Press noted, the House Appropriations Committee has approved cuts to funding for “hurricane hunters” — military planes that fly into hurricanes in order to measure and track them:
Hurricane hunters – which are flying into Irene’s eye to feed forecasters vital information about the storm – could face big funding cuts under a budget proposal moving through the U.S. House.
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Florida, wrote House Speaker John Boehner on Friday asking for a reversal of proposed cuts to the program under a bill that passed the Appropriations Committee. She said if the cuts go through, it would amount to a 40 percent drop in funding for hurricane hunter flights out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [...]
Hurricane hunter planes fly directly into the storm to measure wind speed, barometric pressure and other data that the National Hurricane Center then uses to formulate its forecasts.
The cuts passed by the Appropriations Committee would take funding for these flights down from $29 million to $17 million, despite the fact that the flights help save a substantial amount of money.
Due to data from the hurricane monitoring flights, forecasts are 30 percent more accurate. Since it costs $1 million per coastal mile for evacuation and preparation when a storm approaches, every mile that is not evacuated yields substantial savings for taxpayers. Estimates put the savings due to monitoring flights at $100-$150 million per storm, far outstripping the $29 million budget dedicated to the hurricane hunters.
“[The] hurricane hunter program is worth its weight in gold,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “They have gotten such accuracy in prediction, not only the strength of a hurricane but exactly its track. You cut back on those kinds of expenses, and that is really cutting off your nose to spite your face.” “These are very significant cuts. It would be a harmful step backward, just when hurricane predictions are improving,” added Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), who has pledged to propose an amendment restoring the cut funds when the GOP’s appropriations bill comes to the House floor.