Washington: Of all Florida’s major population centers, Miami is the most vulnerable to strong hurricane winds, according to Florida State University researchers who have developed a new tool to estimate the frequency of extreme hurricane winds at a particular location.
Geography doctoral student Jill C Malmstadt, working with Professor James B Elsner and research consultant Thomas H Jagger, created the Hurricane Risk Calculator and used it to estimate the risk to 12 cities in Florida.
“Not unexpectedly, we found that the extreme wind risk from hurricanes varies across the state. Areas in the northeast, such as Jacksonville and in the Big Bend between Tampa and Tallahassee, have longer periods between occurrences of a given strong wind speed compared to areas such as Miami and Pensacola. That’s also where we found the highest annual threats of a catastrophic hurricane event,” said Malmstadt.
Using the Hurricane Risk Calculator, the researchers found that Miami can expect to see winds of 112 mph or stronger — that’s a category 3 hurricane —once every 12 years on average.
Miami last saw winds of that strength with Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
On the other hand, Tallahassee, the state’s least vulnerable city, can expect to see winds of that speed only once every 500 years.
The Hurricane Risk Calculator is a statistical model based on extreme value theory — a theory that is used to estimate the occurrence of the rare and extreme events like hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, said Malmstadt.
Researchers applied the theory to wind speed data derived from the National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Database, which is the official record of tropical cyclones for the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea dating back to 1851.
“This method is unique because it uses extreme value distributions that allow us to better estimate extreme events. Other approaches use various distributions that work incredibly well when trying to estimate the average event, like category 1 or 2 hurricanes. They may be underestimating or overestimating the extremes even if they are right on with the average,” said Malmstadt.
The Hurricane Risk Calculator can provide important information to emergency planners, the insurance industry and homeowners, Malmstadt said, noting that the state of Florida especially has experienced more than USD 450 billion in damages from hurricanes since the early 20th century.
“Hurricanes top the list of the most destructive and costly natural disasters in the United States. For society to better cope with and mitigate these disasters, a more precise estimate of the risk of high winds on the local level is needed. The Hurricane Risk Calculator does that,” she said.
The findings of the study will be published in the November issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.