If you happen to live in Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi, you could be forgiven for waking up slightly alarmed this morning at the news that Tropical Storm Isaac is heading your way, with experts predicting it will become a full-blown hurricane when it makes landfall on Tuesday night.
But how worried do you really need to be?
That’s the question that researchers at Rice University are attempting to answer right now, and while their new web-based ‘hurricane risk’ calculator won’t be of much use in this current storm, it has the potential to become a useful early warning system in for those living in the paths of hurricanes in the future.
Currently, the tool is only able to provide warnings to residents of Houston in Texas, which it does by combining the latest meteorological data with historical data to come up with a real-time risk factor depending on your precise location.
Leonardo Duenas-Osorio, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University, explains in this YouTube video how researchers use data from a variety of sources to give people the information they need to make informed decisions in times of emergency.
Duenas-Osorio said that the inspiration for the risk calculator came in part following the mass evacuations that occurred just before Hurricane Rita made landfall in 2005. At that time, millions of residents panicked and fled the Houston area, causing a logistical nightmare as major roadways become blocked, despite the fact that many people didn’t actually need to leave their homes. The problems highlighted the fact that without a reliable source of information, most people are simply at a loss about what to do when a category 5 storm is bearing down on them.
Researchers hope that the new calculator will prevent these kinds of scenes from happening again. As well as predicting risks associated with wind damage, it can also gauge other important factors such as rainfall, storm surge, and the chance of a power outage affecting the area, providing residents with facts they can relate to and giving them the chance to take action before the storm hits home.