CCU scientists “spot on” with 2016 hurricane predictions

A group of students and professors at Coastal Carolina University are working to predict hurricanes and flooding this year.

“During Hurricane Matthew me and my students were working,” said Dr. Shaowu Bao who is a member of the Hurricane Genesis and Outlook (HUGO) team.

The group predicts and trucks storms using the HUGO model system.

“There are different techniques and different parameters that describe how the atmosphere behaves, how the ocean behaves,” said Dr. Paul Gayes, who is a member of the team and the Executive Director of the Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine & Wetland Studies. “And when those are looked at in total you are able to make these types of predictions.”

The team utilizes two different SODAR stations which are located on Waties Island and CCU’s campus but are a part of a group of nearly 80 in the southeast.

“They’re sending sound up into the atmosphere, getting velocity and direction of the winds up at an altitude up to 200 meters,” said Gayes about the SODAR equipment. “That device, and other sensors that we’re putting around the region, not only feed our models, they are getting fed to the National Weather System as well.”

In 2016 the team correctly predicted the number of hurricanes that would make landfall on the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

“Last year was spot on,” said Gayes.

Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the gulf in September 2016 and Hurricane Matthew made landfall in South Carolina in October 2016.

“The modeling result has been used by the South Carolina State Guards in their efforts for hazard mitigation,” said Bao. “They recognize this effort. Our modeling products will be very helpful.”

The team has focused on the ocean and atmosphere but a new National Science Foundation grant will now allow them to study river flooding as well.

“When the hurricane comes, the most damage is done by the flooding instead of the wind,” said Bao. “Flooding is a very important issue.”

Gayes said it’s difficult to get data on river flooding because during storms, instruments are often damaged.

“Trying to get that data is challenging, so we were funded to develop innovative ways to get that information during events and feed them back to the model system so the model can be advanced and improved,” he added.

While their job is to gather data to predict and study storms, Gayes said, “When it comes down to it, if there’s a storm off the coast, pay attention to the news and the weather service and take you guidance there.”

The group hopes to have its 2017 predictions within the next week or two.

Other members of the HUGO team are Len Petrafesa, Tingzhuang Yan and Mansur Ali Jisan. You can read more about the team’s 2016 predictions by clicking: here.