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Water-Related News

USF Ocean Circulation Lab braces for a busy hurricane season

There’s never a dull moment in the Ocean Circulation Lab at the USF College of Marine Science. Surface buoys need maintenance. Bottom mounts equipped with ocean monitoring instruments need to be recovered from the seafloor.

When hurricane season rolls around, busy gets a new meaning for the lab, which operates several high-resolution models that forecast currents and water levels along the western coast of Florida.

“Hurricane season can be a very demanding time of year for us,” says Yonggang Liu, associate research professor and director of the Ocean Circulation Lab (OCL). “Our lab has been quick to respond to tropical storms in the past to make sure we can provide the most reliable data possible to people who need them most.”

Above-average ocean temperatures and the influence of La Niña have put Liu and his team on high alert going into the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts 17 to 25 named storms and four to seven major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher).

While hurricanes are categorized by wind speed, water is what often gives them their deadly power.

Storm surge — the sudden rise in water level typically associated with low-pressure weather systems — has been shown to account for nearly half of all fatalities from tropical storms.

OCL researchers are hard at work improving storm surge forecasting capabilities along the west coast of Florida. First developed by the lab more than a decade ago, the West Florida Coastal Ocean Model (WFCOM) and Tampa Bay Coastal Ocean Model (TBCOM) can now be used to forecast water levels days before hurricane landfall.