Researchers Plot Hurricane Damage Zipcode By Zipcode

August 25, 1998

Long before Hurricane Bonnie ever makes landfall, wind engineering researchers at Clemson University will be trying to predict - on a zip code by zip code basis - the amount of damage she's likely to cause.

"Our research is still ongoing, but we are trying to use this season's storms, such as Bonnie, to put our computer model through some 'real-world' tests," said David Rosowsky, an associate professor of civil engineering at Clemson.

Clemson researchers hope to have the computer program available to emergency management personnel in time for next year's hurricane season.

"This tool gives our state emergency preparedness officials a way to mobilize their resources and manpower to the areas that will most need help. It's often difficult to mobilize help once the hurricane has already come ashore and caused damage. This way, we can be ready to lend assistance the moment it's needed," said Rosowky.

"Emergency managers and planners are often inundated with information and misinformation as a storm approaches. A wide variety of wind speeds is reported by the media, and it is difficult - if not impossible - for them to sort these out and rank them in terms of both credibility and applicability to their particular situations and locations."

The Clemson computer modeling system can be used both for short-term planning as a storm approaches or for long-term studies and 'what-if' scenarios by emergency management personnel, emergency planners and the insurance industry.

Researchers hope to be able to predict not only damage to residential structures but also maximum wind speed and estimated time of occurrence. All results will be displayed by zip code using a Geographic Information System.

The predictions are based on hurricane tracking information supplied by reconnaissance aircraft that is integrated into a computer model based on information gathered from previous storms.

The computer modeling system is part of a larger project funded by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium to develop a hurricane hazard assessment system for the State of South Carolina. Rosowsky is the lead investigator of the multi-year project.

Coastal areas along South Carolina were left devastated in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, which in September 1989 caused billions of dollars in damage.

Through its research, Clemson is finding new ways to save lives and property in peril from potentially devastating wind storms by providing engineering data for new and existing construction.

Clemson's Wind Load Test Facility is one of the nation's top laboratories for testing the effects of wind on low-rise structures such as homes and schools.

Clemson University

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