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See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 6

Dial-a-Flood: A New Smart Phone App Helps Residents and Researchers Predict Storm Surges

A new app and Web site may make it easier to predict storm surges
StormSurge, predict, floods, hurricanes, natural disaster



Courtesy of Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University and WCU Mobile App Development Team (screenshot); Mutlu Kurtbas/iStockphoto (iPhone)

Researchers have had a notoriously difficult time predicting how much flooding a given area will experience in the wake of a storm. Now a team led by researchers at Western Carolina University has developed a Web site and smartphone app that may help. The scientists gathered storm-surge data going back 65 years at more than 3,400 sites along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and are making it available just in time for the June 1 start of the Atlantic hurricane season (see http://stormsurge.wcu.edu). Users can enter a zip code and view a map that shows all high-water measurements made in that area. Also shown are the paths of the hurricanes that caused those floods, along with other aspects that most likely influenced storm-surge height, including wind speed and barometric pressure.

The database, which the researchers continue to compile, will ultimately be maintained and archived at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Detailed analyses of this information may lead to a better understanding of the nonstorm-related factors that influence surges, including the slope of the seafloor immediately offshore, says Katie McDowell Peek, a member of the Western Carolina team. And scientists may be better able to forecast a storm’s effects by comparing its projected path and strength with those of hurricanes that previously struck the coast.

This article was published in print as "Go with the Flow."

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