University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering


UH Researchers Predict Probability of Hurricane Hitting Texas


Erin D. McKenzie

Researchers at the University of Houston have developed a new model they hope will accurately predict the number of hurricanes that could strike the state during this year’s Atlantic Hurricane Season.

The model, which researchers hope to help verify through this season’s prediction, indicates there is an increased potential a storm will make landfall in Texas.

“There is a greater chance of a hurricane hitting Texas,” said Cumaraswamy "Vipu" Vipulanandan, director of the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UH. “We predict there is a 35 percent chance there will be one and a 13 percent chance of two hurricanes.”

Leading U.S. hurricane forecasters at Colorado State University have already announced the six-month season, which began June 1, will be more active. Among their predictions: a total of 10 hurricanes, five of them major, as well as a 51 percent chance one would hit the Gulf Coast.

These predictions, Vipu said, were devised by looking at a combination of the ocean conditions and past hurricane history. UH researchers, however, are doing things a little differently.

Their model was developed, in part, by using data, kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on the number and the severity of hurricanes affecting the state the last 150 years. It relies on trends and a little math to determine the probability of a hurricane’s landfall in Texas.

Since the tropics traditionally don't become active until the early fall months, it's still too early to tell if the forecast is on track. However, the center predicted zero to one would hit the state last year with a slightly different model. While only three hurricanes developed out of tropical storms last season, none came ashore in the United States.

Though Texas got lucky, Vipu said, now even two years after Hurricane Ike, a storm near its magnitude would be devastating for the area.

It’s an outcome the center has been working to help minimize.

Since forming two years ago, they have been focused on improving recovery protocols among the public and private sector. This is in addition to developing damage reduction tools to aid in recovery following a hurricane. Their technologies run the gamut and include helping with preparation challenges such as anchoring dwellings, pipelines and offshore structures to remotely monitoring bridge stability with high-tech sensors. There’s even work being done to create a device, similar to what’s used overseas, that would protect areas such as Galveston against storm surge by doubling seawall size with the flip of a switch.



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