USC hurricane expert: Past storms could help predict future ones

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Even though June 1 marks the first day of hurricane season, experts study the storm systems and their effects all year long.

In an proactive approach to protect South Carolinians from hurricanes, Dr. Jerry Mitchell is studying those that have already hit. After Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, he and his team started traveling to the Gulf Coast to learn the toll taken.

"We make frequent trips down there to learn what went wrong and what went right," said Mitchell, director of the South Carolina Geographical Alliance.

Dr. Mitchell and fellow researchers are specifically mapping storm-surge inundation and using those lessons to protect South Carolina. "Storm surge is an upwelling of water that is pushed ahead of the storm, and it is exacerbated by a number of different things," said Mitchell. "If you have a shallow shelf where the water just kind of tapers off quickly as it comes into the coastline and becomes more shallow, that can help it pile up higher.  If it comes in at high tide, the strengths of the winds, lower pressure storm, all of those things cause the water to rise up."

The concern goes beyond the obvious wall of incoming water. "There's also the reverse flow," Mitchell said. "That water doesn't stay inland. Like a big, giant Brillo pad, that's got a whole lot of debris that's going to come right back flowing out and people have to be concerned about that as well."

Dr. Mitchell says South Carolina does very well overall in protecting its residents. He's studying though how well the residents respond, as well as all the tourists who vacation on our beaches at the height of hurricane season.

You can learn more about hurricanes on the WIS First Alert Hurricane Tracker.

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