Kudos to the Storm Trackers

TIMELY storm tracking and detailed warnings from the National Hurrican Center team in Miami enabled communities to take the action - including evacuation - that minimized casualties.

Team members stayed at their posts while Andrew literally raged about them, and while they did not know what was happening to their own families. Many of them found that their homes, too, suffered major damage.

The meteorologists' life-saving performance was the fruit of thorough professional training backed by modern equipment and many years of patient research into the nature of hurricanes and the destruction they bring.

Satellites and hunter planes can track the storms. Hurricanes don't catch people unawares any longer. Studies of how various types of wind and rain act under a variety of geographical conditions to cause damage and flooding have led to computer programs that can simulate local conditions. Although such forecasting needs much further development, it already can help forecasters sharpen their warnings once they know where a storm is likely to hit.

This kind of knowledge-based facility can't be cobbled together in a hurry when a threatening storm appears. It is built up gradually through ongoing research and development that must be sustained year after year even when it does not seem to have immediate application. Administration and congressional budget-cutters should remember this when atmosphere research may seem a tempting target.

The fruits of this research should also be utilized in land-use planning. Newer types of research that use computer modeling of local geography and stream flows are beginning to shed light on how hurricanes and other extreme storms may damage inland areas.

Wise use of such knowledge in development planning and construction could reduce the potential for property damage as well as save lives.

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