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Hurricane landfall on both the East and Gulf coasts likely in 2018, according to HUGO outlook

May 2, 2018

CONWAY, S.C. – The Hurricane Genesis & Outlook (HUGO) Project at Coastal Carolina University anticipates a “normal to above normal” hurricane season in 2018, with a high probability of landfall on both the U.S. East and Gulf coasts, according to its extended range forecast for the North Atlantic released today.

Based on climate factors available in April, the HUGO outlook (detailed in the table above) predicts that there will be a range of 11 to 18 named tropical storms (with 15 most likely), with from 5 to 9 (with 7 most likely) becoming hurricanes, and 2 to 5 (with 3 most likely) becoming major hurricanes during the 2018 season (June 1 to Nov. 30).

For both the U.S. East Coast and the U.S. Gulf Coast, the HUGO study predicts a landfall probability range of zero to 2 for both coastlines. The most probable scenario calls for at least 1 hurricane landfall on the East Coast and at least 1 hurricane landfall on the Gulf Coast during the 2018 season. The second most likely scenario is that no hurricanes will make landfall on either coast. The third most likely possibility is that 2 hurricanes will make landfall on the U.S. Atlantic East Coast and for 2 hurricanes to make landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Scenarios for the 2018 hurricane season are dependent on a number of factors in the latter part of June and in July, according to Len Pietrafesa, research professor in CCU’s Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies (BCCMWS) and leader of the HUGO team.

“The key issues at this point in time are 1) how the El Nino will develop and 2) how warm the upper ocean of the North Atlantic will become later in the season,” said Pietrafesa.

Updated outlooks will be released later in the season as more observational climate data become available.

Past HUGO outlook forecasts have proven to be highly accurate. The 2016 and 2015 outlooks were correct in nearly every category (number of tropical storms, number of major hurricanes, landfalls on both the East Coast and Gulf Coast). The 2015 outlook correctly forecast a most likely scenario that no hurricanes would make landfall on either the East or Gulf coasts and also accurately forecast the number of hurricanes at 4. The 2016 forecasts for all numbers were spot on, including 1 landfall on the Gulf Coast (Hermine) and 1 on the East Coast (Matthew). The 2017 outlook report performed well in comparison to all 22 of the organizations that produce hurricane outlook reports annually, according to Pietrafesa.

HUGO team tests new hydrology model for river/watershed flooding The HUGO model system is testing a new hydrology feature that predicts river flow and flooding along the watersheds of South Carolina. The new feature has special relevance for emergency management officials in their logistical planning in the event of evacuations because it examines the timing and amount of lateral inundation emanating from rivers as they purge themselves of excess hurricane waters.

The HUGO team and Jason Hallstrom of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) are developing the hydrology component, with funding from the National Science Foundation, to assimilate flooding river velocity data into the model system track. This includes developing novel techniques to define flooding river velocity structure using FAU/CCU GPS micro-drifters, particle tracking from drones and surface sled-mounted acoustic Doppler current profilers.

The end-to-end HUGO model system was developed in 2013 by a group of climatological and weather scholars of international standing led by Pietrafesa, a computational fluid physicist and former chair of the NOAA science advisory board and of the National Hurricane Center external advisory panel. Other members of the CCU team are: Shaowu Bao, a computational, deterministic numerical modeler specializing in meteorology and oceanography and a professor in coastal and marine systems science at CCU; Tingzhuang Yan, a meteorological oceanographer with a background in statistical modeling of climate and weather systems and a Burroughs & Chapin Research Scholar at CCU; and Paul Gayes, CCU professor and BCCMWS director.

The HUGO hurricane seasonal outlook model is based on calculations of 22 climatological factors encompassing oceanic, atmospheric and shoreline activity. The model also considers detailed statistical data from previous Atlantic hurricanes going back to 1950, a methodology that has produced highly accurate track predictions in hind-casting tests conducted by the team at CCU. The HUGO team has made a significant advance in computing a key factor in advance of an upcoming season, the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) Index, which calculates the kinetic energy of storms based on the summation of all tropical storm wind values, observed over an entire hurricane season.

In addition to the seasonal outlook, the model system predicts the track, intensity, surge and the inundation and flooding potential of an incoming hurricane seven days out. The HUGO model system is updated daily until the hurricane makes landfall, providing specific data on probabilistic storm surge and inundation including time, location and statistical representations of expected water depth along the coastline.

For more information about CCU’s HUGO Project, contact Bao at 843-349-6633 or sbao@coastal.edu or Pietrafesa at 704-910-7047 or email lpietraf@coastal.edu.