University of Houston to lead new hurricane research center

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HOUSTON (AP) — As part of a multi-state effort to respond to damages wrought this year by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the University of Houston will lead a new Gulf Coast hurricane research institute.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the institute will examine flood mitigation, hurricane modeling and public policy. Seven universities in Texas, Florida and Louisiana will contribute a combined $1.87 million to finance collaborative projects, with additional funding expected from external grants.

"Academics are nonpartisan — we think about data and information, we guide the conversation, we don't have a vested interest in one solution versus another," said Hanadi Rifai, who is the center's director and a UH civil and environmental engineering professor. "(We will be) a very important resource to entities that don't have that capacity."

Other universities joining the institute are Rice University, Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at Tyler, Louisiana State University, the University of Miami and the University of Florida. The center will be based at UH's engineering college.

Rifai said UH is still reaching out to other campuses that may be interested in joining.

The center builds on a wide-ranging research effort in Texas that began after Harvey's floodwaters receded. Professors and students in Texas spread around the state to examine environmental, economic and social issues, and UH's Rifai said she expected the center to fold in some of the work that has already started.

Researchers have tested water, tracked social media cries for help, examined mangroves and the Port Aransas coast and evaluated damage to libraries. An oral history project at UH will track Harvey's human impact.

Philip Klotzbach, who specializes in Atlantic hurricane forecasts at Colorado State University, said that moving forward, collaborative research is needed in forecasting storm strength, understanding why residents do not heed warnings and studying building codes.

"There's a lot of interest," he said. "Given what happened and the level of damage we saw in your neck of the woods, people are moving very quickly."

The institute's beginnings reach back to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Rice, LSU and UH academics began working together.


Information from: Houston Chronicle,

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