Georgia Southern to lead study in storm vulnerability

Georgia’s curved coastline makes it statistically less likely than nearby states to attract a direct hit from a major hurricane, but the entire Southeastern coast is frequently vulnerable to related wind, erosion and flooding.

This week, a Georgia Southern University scientist received a $377,000 share of a $1.06 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant that will be used to help identify coastal areas most vulnerable to natural hazards.

Researcher Clark Alexander will work to improve a software tool called AMBUR (Analyzing Moving Boundaries Using R), which creates hazard data useful in identifying the pros and cons of development on vulnerable areas.

“The core of the project is to develop a new hazard-vulnerability tool that can be applied in the whole region,” said Alexander, a professor at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Savannah.

The AMBUR program was created by another Georgia Southern professor – Chester Jackson – and the project to develop the tool on a larger scale will last about 18 months. Partners in all four states will gather data throughout the process.

“Project partners are going to be gathering the data sets that we need, and we are going to use the tool in all four states,” Alexander said. “At the end of the day, we’ll be providing this tool so anybody can use it.”

The grant from NOAA’s Regional Ocean Partnership was awarded to the Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance, an environmental organization headed by the governors of Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and North Carolina.

Although coastal erosion and flooding have occurred many times, Georgia hasn’t taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century, and only four minor storms made landfall here during the 1900s.

Georgia’s three worst hurricanes - all occurring in the month of August - made landfall in the Savannah vicinity in 1881, 1893 and 1898, according to National Hurricane Center records.

Although the state’s narrow sliver of coastline makes a smaller target, its shallow offshore shelf adds to the potential for inland damage if a major storm were to strike.

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