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Hurricane winds most likely to hit N.C., Florida cities


Researchers analyze probability of hurricane-force winds in 35 East Coast, Gulf of Mexico cities

Hurricane-force winds are most likely to strike this year in Cape Hatteras, N.C., and Miami Beach and Naples, Fla., according to an analysis of coastal cities by a University of Central Florida professor and a Georgia researcher released today. Cape Hatteras has a 10.31 percent chance of experiencing hurricane-force winds this year, followed by Miami Beach at 10.16 percent and Naples at 10.01 percent, based on an analysis of hurricane tracks during the past 154 years and of ocean and climate conditions for 2005.

UCF statistics professor Mark Johnson and Chuck Watson, founder of the Kinetic Analysis Corp. of Savannah, Ga., analyzed 35 cities on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Their findings are available on, a Web site that tracks storms worldwide and lists estimates of how much damage specific hurricanes are likely to cause based on their tracks and property records.

The probabilities of hurricane force winds, meaning winds of 74 mph or greater, striking other U.S. cities include 9.12 percent for West Palm Beach, Fla., 6.87 percent for New Orleans; 6.66 percent for Wilmington, N.C., and 5.08 percent for Charleston, S.C.

Such odds might seem low and even comforting to residents whose homes were battered by multiple storms last year. However, Johnson and Watson said residents still need to prepare to protect their homes and stock up on food, water and other supplies. Even a 5 percent chance is high.

"That’s a one-in-20 chance that your house will at least experience roof damage and that you could be sitting in the dark for several days," Watson said. "If you buy a lottery ticket every week for a one-in-several-million chance to get rich, doesn’t it make sense to prepare for a one-in-20 or even a one-in-a-100 chance of something bad happening?"

While south Florida cities such as Naples, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are always at higher risk of storms than north Florida, this year the odds of hurricane-force winds for south Florida are well above the average over the past 154 years, Johnson and Watson concluded. The odds of hurricane-force winds hitting cities in northern Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico coast in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are lower than usual.

The researchers attributed those differences to global atmospheric patterns that control the steering currents, or the upper-level winds that determine the directions that storms follow. This year, the winds should trend more east-to-west, straight across Florida. Last year, the steering currents were directed more toward the north, which led to storm tracks such as Hurricane Charley’s hitting Florida’s Gulf Coast and then going northeast through the state.

Johnson, an expert in the statistical aspects of hurricane modeling and forecasting, and Watson, whose specialty is geophysics and numerical modeling, have worked together on several hurricane-related research projects during the past 10 years. They have developed maps to support local mitigation strategies for the State of Florida, developed data for Caribbean governments in an effort funded by the Organization of American States and researched hurricane damage models used in the insurance industry for the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

Johnson and Watson also work as consultants to the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology, which reviews and accepts public and private hurricane models. Johnson has taught at the University of Central Florida since 1990. He was chairman of the UCF Statistics Department from 1990 to 1996, and he worked as a visiting scientist at the National Hurricane Center in 1996. Watson has worked in the field of natural hazards modeling since 1989 for a variety of local, state and federal agencies, and has written about remote sensing, distributed computing and natural hazards.

Tom Evelyn | EurekAlert!
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