Professors available to comment on storm’s severity, evacuation, expected flooding, infrastructure issues

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The National Hurricane Center is warning that Category 4 Hurricane Florence will produce a life-threatening storm surge along the Southeast coast, followed by potentially life-threatening freshwater flooding from the hurricane’s prolonged rainfall. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has ordered the evacuation of more than 1 million people.

Northwestern University experts are available to speak to the media today and as the storm progresses about the storm’s strength, expected flooding, potential infrastructure problems and evacuation.

Daniel Horton, head of Northwestern’s Climate Change Research Group and an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, can speak about the meteorological and geographical impact of the storm and how and where the flooding could occur. He also can speak about how climate change has the potential to make these events stronger and more impactful. He can be reached at 847-467-6185 or daniel.horton@northwestern.edu.

Quotes from Professor Horton:

“From a meteorological standpoint, this looks to be an incredibly dangerous and impactful storm. Due to forecasted stalling, both residents on the coast and inland should take the warnings very seriously.

“The hurricane’s ‘category number’ refers to the strength of the storm’s winds but it’s often the water-related impacts that are the most dangerous. From a storm-surge perspective, extensive coastal flooding is expected. In addition, this is a region that has seen long term sea level rise due to both human and natural influences. Regardless of cause, this increase in sea level will exacerbate storm surge impacts. 

“The storm is currently forecasted to stall out inland. The danger with a stalled tropical cyclone is that it is going to rain in place and rain hard – similar to Hurricane Harvey, which stalled in Houston and produced unprecedented rainfall accumulations. The Carolinas, unlike the Houston area, have mountains to the west, so rainfall will be enhanced over the slopes and drain into the waterways of both North and South Carolina – areas that will have already been soaked by the landfalling storm. The accumulated water is likely to lead to substantial and dangerous flooding conditions inland and along the coast.”

On climate change, Horton said, “The scientific consensus is that climate change won’t necessarily lead to more hurricanes and typhoons, but will, when the ingredients that result in their formation come together, lead to stronger and more impactful storms.” 

Joseph Schofer, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, can speak about the risk and damage to various infrastructure components after a devastating hurricane makes landfall. He can be reached at 847-491-8795 or j-schofer@northwestern.edu.

Quotes from Professor Schofer:

“The hurricane is nature testing our defenses. We’ll learn about our infrastructure’s resilience. Particularly vulnerable are low-lying roads, bridges (from flooding and scour), traffic control devices and water supply and wastewater treatment facilities.

“Evacuation is an essential, immediate response, but if and as these storms grow in frequency and intensity, it gets terribly costly to evacuate repeatedly. The solution would be to harden infrastructure or relocate.”

Northwestern evacuation systems expert Hani S. Mahmassani can discuss weather emergency response evacuation planning and implementation, including predictive modeling of the behaviors of transportation systems and individuals.Mahmassani, director of Northwestern’s Transportation Center and professor of civil and environmental engineering at McCormick, is traveling internationally, but reporters can contact him at masmah@northwestern.edu to ask written questions or request a Skype interview.

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