Efforts to Study Severe Windstorms Get Boost From New Law

Washington, D.C. – On September 30 President Obama signed H.R.23 “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015” into law, reauthorizing the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.

Sponsored by Representative Randy Neugebauer (R-TX), the 2015 Act amends and reauthorizes the “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act of 2004” through FY2017. The House passed the “National Windstorm Impact Reduction Act Reauthorization of 2015” on January 7 and the Senate agreed to its version of the bill on July 23. After working out minor differences between the two chambers, the bill made its way to President Obama on September 21.

The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program bolsters research into more precise data collection on wind measurements, wind loading and other aspects of severe wind. The program studies how severe wind hits communities and works with both private-sector organizations and federal agencies to develop wind standards, model codes and improved building practices.

A windstorm rages over Oregon and Washington State in December 2006. NASA image by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data from the MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.

A windstorm rages over Oregon and Washington State in December 2006. NASA image by Jesse Allen, Earth Observatory, using data from the MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.

The program was created by the 2004 act and originally led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which advises the President and Executive Office of the President on how science and technology affects domestic and international affairs. In the amended act the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a federal technology agency, will assume leadership of the program for the foreseeable future.

The 2015 act puts NIST in charge of planning and coordinating agencies affiliated with the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); requires NIST to closely monitor the program; and changes the definition of “windstorm” to explicitly include northeasters.

Each affiliated agency has specific tasks within the program. NSF will support research exploring the economics and social factors that affect windstorm risk reduction measures, and NSF and NOAA will support atmospheric science research to better understand how windstorms behave and how they can impact infrastructure. FEMA will collect windstorm-related data and encourage households, businesses and communities to prepare for windstorms with developing mitigation techniques.

Comparing funding authorizations from the 2015 act to the original 2004 act, funding for NSF’s windstorm-related programs increased around 11 percent, for NIST around 37 percent, for NOAA around 8 percent and decreased for FEMA around 39 percent. The 2015 bill authorizes $9,682,000 to NSF, $4,120,000 to NIST, $2,266,000 to NOAA and $5,332,000 to FEMA for fiscal year 2015. The values stay the same for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

By Elizabeth Goldbaum, GSA Science Policy Fellow

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