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Hurricane risks higher than usual for most of US coasts

10 counties in Fla., 8 in N.C. among top 20 at risk for storms based on past tracks and 2007 climate conditions

Much of the nation’s Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines face substantially higher-than-normal risks for hurricanes in 2007, according to an analysis by a University of Central Florida researcher and his Georgia colleague.

Nationally, Carteret County on the North Carolina coastline has the highest probability of hurricane-force winds in 2007 at 22.4 percent, according to the analysis by UCF statistics professor Mark Johnson and Chuck Watson, a Georgia researcher who founded the Kinetic Analysis Corp. of Silver Spring, Md.

Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish is second at 21.2 percent. St. Lucie and Martin counties in Florida rank third and fourth, respectively, at 20.8 percent and 20.7 percent. Charleston County, S.C., and Indian River County, Fla., tied for fifth at 20.1 percent.

Johnson and Watson based their analysis on statistical models that incorporate the paths of storms from the past 155 years, along with models using the actual climate conditions for January through May 2007 that compute the expected global climate conditions for the rest of the year. The researchers have worked together for 10 years on probability analyses for hurricanes and have released their projections for the past eight years.

Johnson is an expert in the statistical aspects of hurricane modeling and forecasting. Watson specializes in developing hazard models based on engineering and geophysics. They collaborate on a Web site,, that tracks storms worldwide with hourly updates, shows estimates of disruptions to oil and gas production and projects property damage along the storms’ anticipated paths.

“Because so much of the U.S. and Florida coastlines are at higher risks for hurricanes, residents need to prepare carefully for the upcoming storm season,” Johnson said. “Residents also should expect gas prices to potentially climb higher if the expected disruptions to Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production materialize in 2007.”

The combination of La Niña weather conditions that are expected to develop throughout the summer and warmer-than-normal Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean temperatures increase the chances of hurricanes and disruptions in oil and gas production.

Of the 852 counties included in the analysis, the probability of hurricane-force winds (74 mph or greater) this year is 15 percent or greater in 61 counties. In an average year, only six counties face probabilities of at least 15 percent.

The 20 counties with the highest probabilities for hurricane-force winds include 10 in Florida, eight in North Carolina, one in Louisiana and one in South Carolina.

To develop estimates for oil-and-gas production, the researchers operate a computer model that includes every oil platform, pipeline, refinery and terminal in the Gulf of Mexico. The model simulated how every storm since 1851 would have affected oil and gas infrastructure based on 2007 locations.

In those simulations, at least one week’s worth of production in the Gulf has been disrupted in 98 percent of the years with La Niña conditions.

Johnson and Watson 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. Watson is assisting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Watson and Johnson are actively working on research on the potential impact of climate change on hurricanes and hurricane damage frequencies.

They also have worked as consultants to the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology, which reviews and accepts public and private hurricane insurance models.

Chad Binette | EurekAlert!
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