Coastal Carolina University researchers predict major hurricane for East Coast this year

troot@thesunnews.comAugust 13, 2013 

Myrtle Beach after Hurricane Hugo. 09/1989

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— Using a new hurricane model program developed at Coastal Carolina University, researchers announced Tuesday they predict at least one major hurricane to make landfall on the East Coast and none for the Gulf.

Where on the East Coast they did not say in the prediction released Tuesday.

The prediction was issued nearly two weeks after school officials formally unveiled the model named Hurricane Genesis and Outlook, or HUGO, after 1989’s devastating Category 4 storm that crashed into the coast with 135 mph near McClellanville.

During the debut announcement earlier this month that in addition to predicting the number of storms, the model will provide probability predictions of where a storm will make landfall along the East Coast or Gulf Coast, Pietrafesa said.

That sets this model apart from numerous others across the country, officials said.

For this season researchers said Tuesday the model has predicted two to four major hurricanes expected to form, but only one will make landfall along the East Coast.

“It will be busier than normal on the East Coast, with one, possibly two, major hurricanes likely to make landfall,” said Len Pietrafesa, a Burroughs and Chapin scholar at CCU and the lead researcher. “The Gulf Coast will not see as much action as usual in terms of hurricanes making landfall, according to our outlook.”

The factors that are used in the probabilistic scheme were updated in July and early August and the changes in those factors accounted for the changes in several of the prediction probabilities. The HUGO hurricane seasonal outlook model is based on calculations of 22 climate factors and statistical data from 1950 of previous Atlantic hurricanes.

The likelihood of a storm making landfall along the South Carolina coast is always a probability and doesn’t change the way emergency officials will plan for a season, Horry County’s Emergency Management Director Randy Webster said.

Local officials are excited about the model not only for its landfall probability predictions, but for storm surge predictions for a particular storm, he said.

“It’s another tool in the tool box. We don’t rely on one particular product or tool,” Webster said and noted the forecast from the National Hurricane Center is the “gospel.” We look at all the tools and consider them. A lot goes into making a recommendation [to the governor] for an evacuation.”

Emergency managers will monitor all the models and CCU’s information will be used alongside the others, he said.

“Hurrevac [another model] allows us to see the wind field associated with the storm and that’s important because a hurricane evacuation has to end before tropical storm winds get here,” Webster said. “But the surge is the reason why we must evacuate and we get that information from the National Hurricane Center about 48 hours out.”

Webster said, “The CCU team has indicated they may be able to give us a little more lead time. I’m interested in that. It may give us a little more accurate predictions for storm surge in terms of depth for the actual storm and we may get that a day or two earlier. If we can get more information further in advance . . . I’m excited about that.”

Webster said he’s also excited that CCU has started using its researchers to develop hurricane prediction programs that officials are accustomed to seeing from other institutions.

“To see this happening at CCU in Horry County is amazing. People don’t know what it means in the hurricane world. In my opinion, elevating CCU to that level is tremendous and the benefits are yet to come,” Webster said. “I’ll be able to pick up the phone and talk to the team members and meet them face to face and to me that is a huge asset. I firmly believe it will continue to grow and it will find its niche.”

Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her at Twitter.com/tonyaroot.

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