SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A University of Rhode Island oceanographer says the weather computer models have done very well with Hurricane Florence, but he is developing a model that will take hurricane forecasting to a whole new level.

Hurricanes in New England can be very difficult to predict but a new computer model (which doesn’t actually have a name yet) was designed at URI to create more accurate forecasts for coastal and inland flooding and winds. 

The model will also show “the impact from the roads and critical infrastructure so we can communicate more efficiently with emergency managers and decision makers in real time to make their job more effective,” URI oceanographer Isaac Ginis said Wednesday.

The model, which is designed only for Rhode Island right now, uses current weather models (like the American GFS or the European model) and then down-scales the information to an extremely high resolution, down to to about 30 feet! Emergency managers can determine in real time if a critical building, road or bridge will fail.

The model is ready to be used now if a storm were to come up here but simulations with past storms have been done, including Hurricane Carol from 1954.  During that storm, 12 feet of water flooded downtown Providence. The Fox Point Hurricane Barrier was built within the next 10 years to protect the city against storm surge flooding. In the Carol simulation, they can resolve the hurricane barrier and it performed well.  Downtown Providence wasn’t flooded with ocean water.

In a hypothetical storm they named “Rhody,” a strong Category 3 hurricane loops around Rhode Island and dumps 20 inches of rain on the area. The model can pinpoint individual Providence buildings vulnerable to various levels of river flooding (see above). 

Emergency managers can determine if a road may get washed out in Galilee or if a communication tower in Westerly could topple. That high of resolution, especially in real time, could prove to be invaluable during a severe hurricane.

“The infrastructure has a threshold for when it will stop functioning,” Ginis said. “We’ll be able to predict those thresholds. As the color changes from yellow to red, it means there’s more damage to the building. This is essentially the output of the model.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which funds the project, is interested in using the technology in other parts of the United States. While the computer model is designed for hurricanes, it can be easily applied to nor’easters as well.

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