Does Tropical Cyclone Modification Make Sense? A Decision Analytic Perspective
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Recent dramatic increases in damages caused by tropical cyclones (TCs) and improved understanding of TC physics have led the Department of Homeland Security to fund research on intentional hurricane modification. Here I present a decision analytic assessment of whether hurricane modification is potentially cost effective in South Florida.
First, for a single storm I compare hardening buildings to lowering the wind speed of a TC by reducing sea surface temperatures with wind-wave pumps. I find that if it were feasible and properly implemented, modification could reduce net wind losses from an intense storm more than hardening structures. However, hardening provides "fail safe" protection for average storms that might not be achieved if the only option were modification. The effect of natural variability is larger than that of either strategy.
Second, for multiple storms over a given return period, I investigate TC wind and storm surge damage reduction by hardening buildings and by wind-wave pumps. The coastal areas examined experience more surge damages for short return periods, and more wind damages for long periods. Surge damages are best reduced through a surge barrier. Wind damages are best reduced by a portfolio of techniques including wind-wave pumps, assuming they work and are correctly deployed. Damages in areas outside of the floodplain will likely be dominated by wind damages, and hence a similar portfolio will likely be best in these areas.
Since hurricane modification might become a feasible strategy for reducing hurricane damages, to facilitate an informed and constructive discourse on implementation, policy makers need to understand how people perceive hurricane modification. Therefore using the mental models approach, I identified Florida residents’ perceptions of hurricane modification techniques. First, hurricane modification was perceived as a relatively ineffective strategy for damage reduction. Second, hurricane modification was expected to lead to changes in path, but not necessarily strength. Third, reported anger at hurricane modification was weaker when path was unaltered and the damages equal to or less than projected. Fourth, individuals who recognized the uncertainty inherent in hurricane prediction reported more anger at scientists across modification scenarios.