Texas A&M researcher: Matthew’s latest tracking models potentially bad scenario for Florida

Oct 6, 2016

Updated models have Hurricane Matthew affecting 9 million along the Southeastern coast.

Over 9 million people could be impacted by Hurricane Matthew along the Florida, Georgia, and Carolina coasts as it draws closer to landfall – according to the latest tracking.

Matthew is expected to gain intensity and reach its peak off the Atlantic coast of Florida as a strong Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds up to 140-145 mph.

Matthew is potentially the strongest storm to hit the Florida coast since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Dr. Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M’s Department of Geography in the College of Geosciences is part of a team that includes researchers from the University of Michigan (Seth Guikema) and Ohio State University (Steven Quiring). Their objective: to make accurate predictions for power outages in devastating storms.

Dr. McRoberts is tasked with looking at multiple factors such as wind, population, land, environment, soil conditions – and adding them to the power outage model to form a more accurate prediction for the storm.

“Typically, hurricane-related outages are caused by downed power lines, which result from strong winds or trees getting entangled with the lines. Strong winds will blow over both the powerlines and the trees,” said Dr. McRoberts.

But with additional information, such as soil moisture, they can get a more accurate idea of the potential devastation for populated areas with large power grids. “If the soils are wetter before the storm hits, then the soil is going to be looser and the trees and power lines are more susceptible to being blown over,” continued Dr. McRoberts.

The team also looks at drought conditions. If an area has been under a long-term drought, the trees are going to be weakened from lacking the necessary water to be properly nourished – putting them at greater risk for being blown over in a powerful storm.

Matthew’s current path is very troubling for the state of Florida.

“It’s expected to travel right along the Florida coastline, keeping it in close enough proximity to unleash some of its strong winds over land in heavily populated areas such as Miami,” said Dr. McRoberts.

But Matthew’s strong winds aren’t the only problem. 

When a hurricane goes on land and remains there for a significant amount of time, the storm loses its energy source and can eventually die out. But according to Dr. McRoberts, with Matthew traveling over the warmer and shallow waters along the coast of Florida ­– it is highly likely to maintain its strength and be a very destructive storm. 

“It’s close enough to the coast to unleash its winds but it’s also expected to stay over water, which is the natural energy source for a hurricane."

“It’s a pretty bad scenario for Florida,” added Dr. McRoberts.

Read more here.

By: Andrew Vernon ‘06

For more information, contact Robyn Blackmon at 979-845-6324 or robynblackmon@tamu.edu