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URI Physical Oceanographers Receive Grant to Improve Predictions of Hurricane Intensity

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Narragansett, RI—July 23, 2004—With hurricane season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about how to reduce the damage that these powerful storms can cause after they make landfall. Although impressive strides have been made over the last several years to improve hurricane tracking and intensity predictions, scientists are continually working to improve our knowledge of where a hurricane will go and how hard it will hit.

URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) physical oceanographers Drs. Isaac Ginis, Il Ju Moon, and Tetsu Hara have received a three-year $412,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to incorporate into current computer models the impact of surface waves on the interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere, and, consequently, how this interaction affects hurricane intensity, track, wind waves, and ocean prediction.

Based on previous investigations of the behavior of ocean waves in hurricane conditions the scientific team developed a Coupled Wave-Wind (CWW) model that estimates how surface roughness and hurricane-force winds affect the speed and intensity of these powerful storms. However, the CWW did not take into account the effect of surface breaking waves.

"Hurricanes are very complex weather systems that are affected by any number of parameters in the atmosphere, the ocean, and on land," said Ginis. "The more parameters we can incorporate into the computer models, the more accurate the prediction system is."

The NSF grant will allow Ginis, Moon, and Hara to incorporate the breaking wave effect into their CWW model. The scientists anticipate that this effect will allow the model to more accurately estimate the amount of drag exerted on the storm. After testing, the new CWW model will be incorporated into the current hurricane prediction model developed by the University of Rhode Island and the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University presently being used by the National Hurricane Service.

"The ultimate purpose of this research is to improve forecast skills of hurricane intensity and track, but it also addresses the social needs to mitigate and prevent possible natural hazards caused by hurricane-generated extreme wind, waves, and rain," continued Ginis. "Each year several hurricanes attack the coast of the U.S. and occasionally these cyclones result in horrific casualties. Accurate forecasting will lead to advanced warning and preparation for potential hazards that will lessen damages in property and lives."

Funds from the grant have been allocated to support a graduate student who will conduct research, under the guidance of URI scientists, using state-of-the-art environmental modeling equipment.

The URI Graduate School of Oceanography is one of the country's largest marine science education programs, and one of the world's foremost marine research institutions. Founded in 1961 in Narragansett, RI, GSO serves a community of scientists who are researching the causes of and solutions to such problems as harmful algal blooms, global warming, air and water pollution, oil spills, overfishing, and coastal erosion. GSO is home to the Coastal Institute, the Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography, the Pell Marine Science Library, and the National Sea Grant Library.