Research Communications

Storm Tracker 

Meteorology student predicts impacts of hurricanes

May 11, 2011

How much will a storm surge affect the coast when a hurricane hits? Ohio University meteorology student Nicole Grams is helping the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, answer that question.

Grams, recipient of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hollings Scholarship, interned with the center’s Storm Surge Unit last summer. These experts use a computer model, the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH), to forecast storm surges in particular geographic areas. After a hurricane occurs, they perform post-storm analysis and determine the accuracy of SLOSH’s predictions.

Nicole Grams
Nicole Grams. Photo credit: Kevin Riddell.

When asked to examine the storm tide levels after hurricanes Gustav, Ike, Rita, Katrina, and Wilma, Grams offered the hurricane experts a new technological twist. She suggested using Geographic Information Systems, specifically ArcGIS, a program that can analyze and create a visual map of geographic data. The National Hurricane Center hadn’t used it for SLOSH verification before.
“I took a GIS course Spring Quarter and wanted to apply it to the research I would be doing,” Grams explains.

The GIS will allow researchers to identify trends in the SLOSH predictions, such as whether the model tends to forecast too great or too little surge in certain locations. This could help experts better interpret the model to make more accurate warnings and estimates of sea and lake rises.

At the end of the 10-week internship, Grams presented her research at the NOAA Headquarters in Maryland, along with the rest of the national NOAA Hollings scholars, and received first place. As part of her senior thesis project, she’ll continue her study on how GIS can analyze more aspects of storm surge data.

Grams hopes the research experience will lead to a graduate program in physical oceanography or geography, and a career in science and administration at NOAA.

By Milissa Hudepohl

This story will appear in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Perspectives magazine.