Get insider’s look at hurricane trends

Jul 10, 2008

Tallahassee Democrat--July 10, 2008

By Marina Brown

Some scientific lectures have better show-and-tell than others.

Tim LaRow of FSU’S Center for Oceanic-Atmospheric Studies has the perfect visual in Bertha, the first named hurricane of the season, which currently is churning through the waters of the mid-Atlantic.

LaRow will speak about “Hurricanes: Past, Present and Future” at a seminar for the general public from 7 to 9 p.m. today at FSU’s Coastal and Marine Laboratory on Highway 98 in St. Teresa.

Where hurricane prognosticators such as Bill Gray of Colorado State University use statistical models of African rainfall, dust layering and the meteorological phenomenon of El Nino to make predictions, LaRow and his colleagues emphasize climatological data.

“We examine a three- to six-month forecasting model, then compare it with real world climate data over, say, a 20-year period,” LaRow said. “This way, we can note trends and subtle changes in temperature and precipitation.”

The hope is to refine the data so that more accurate predictions of hurricane tracks and landfalls can be made.

“(For example), we may look at Wakulla or Jefferson counties and, using data from the National Hurricane Center, note how often they’ve been hit,” he said. “Using our calculations, we could then determine the probability of how many times in 20 years they will be hit.”

Though hurricane gurus could take a line from the standard stock market disclaimer that “Past performance is no guarantee of future activity,” LaRow said that models developed at FSU seek to use historical data to identify patterns in weather.

“What started out as a global spectral model is now narrowing to a regional model,” he said.

LaRow said that COAS is about two years away from telling us when and where we likely can expect the next season’s hurricanes.

At tonight’s lecture, LaRow will show what the interior of a hurricane looks like and will talk about trends over the past 100 years.

When asked if he would live in a house on the water, LaRow laughed and said, “Not in South Florida.”

“I live in Tallahassee, (and) the really intense storms don’t make it here,” he added.