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August 28, 2008

UMBC/NASA Hurricane Expert: New Orleans, Gulf Coast Should be Concerned About Gustav

Landfall, Intensity, Impact on Gas Prices Tough to Predict Precisely

Media Contact:
Chip Rose, UMBC Science/Tech News

According to Jeffrey Halverson, one of the nation’s top experts on hurricanes and severe weather, Tropical Storm Gustav has the potential to develop into a powerful hurricane that could strike New Orleans or other parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast while causing a spike in gas prices nationwide.

Halverson, associate director for academics at the UMBC/NASA-Goddard Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) and associate professor of geography and environmental systems at UMBC, said, “Folks are looking at the track projection of Gustav and getting nervous, because the center point of the track points directly to New Orleans, four days from now. Anyone living along the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas, should be concerned, because Gustav has the potential to be a serious storm.”

“The bottom line is that a lot can change in the next four days with regard to Gustav’s intensity and track, but certainly the potential is there for the entire U.S. Gulf Coast to be alerted,” said Halverson.

Halverson pointed out that even with state-of-the-art technology, it is still difficult to predict the precise landfall and intensity of a hurricane. “Although the track projection line represents the most probable future position of the storm, it is derived from the consensus prediction of dozens of track forecast models. Not all the models agree on the same track. One should also consider the cone of uncertainty surrounding the line, and it's important to note that the average track error in a five-day forecast is about 300 miles.”

Video: Prof. Halverson on "The Life Cycle of a Hurricane"

“Intensity forecasts are even more prone to error than are track forecasts,” Halverson said. “Conditions in the Gulf -- ocean surface temperatures around 85 degrees, a deep warm layer in the ocean and weak wind shear (which tears apart the thunderstorms and vortex) -- are ripe for intensification of Gustav to a strong, Category 3 hurricane. But forecasters still do not understand all the vagaries of the intensity change process.”

“With a potentially large and destructive storm lumbering into the Gulf, one can surmise that oil refineries will be evacuating and shutting down production. It's likely that some refineries will be damaged. Given the recent volatile price swings of crude oil, a return to high prices at the pump may be one additional consequence for Americans.”

Story Contact:
Jeffrey Halverson

Posted by crose at August 28, 2008 11:05 AM