Equipment problems in US National Hurricane Center hinder many hurricane forecasts

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."

Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield and four former directors acknowledged that equipment gaps have compromised forecasts, including those for Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Erin in 1995 and Mitch in 1998.

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," Mayfield said. "We need more observation (equipment). There's no question."

National Weather Service officials cited the expense of the equipment and its maintenance. They also said there's an overlap, so if a radar installation or buoy fails, another one a few hundred miles (kilometers) away can help, reports the AP. I.L.

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