Geography Students and Faculty Study Hurricane Isaac

Courtney Thompson interviews hurricane evacuee
Courtney Thompson, a graduate student in the Department of Geography, interviews an evacuee from Hurricane Isaac.

Just as the winds and rain were at their peak during Hurricane Isaac’s wrath, several College students were in the thick of it all for the sake of science. Under the guidance of Dr. Jason Senkbeil, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, students measured wind speeds in New Orleans just as Isaac made landfall on August 29. Three of his students were captured by Associated Press photographers and images of the students in full raingear appeared online with several media outlets (see them here).

Courtney Thompson, Jaclyn Brown, Morgan Terry, and John Mason interviewed evacuees prior to the storm to see how accurate they were interpreting forecast information. When the storm made landfall, they measured wind speeds in urban New Orleans.

According to Senkbeil, the research is concentrated on analyzing how people digest and interpret the scientific forecast information from meteorologists.

“Forecasting technology and skill have been steadily improving for decades, but that improvement means little if people are not understanding the information,” he said. “Hurricane Isaac was one of the most difficult storms to forecast in recent memory, and it is hard to convey that difficulty and uncertainty to residents when other storms have been relatively easy to forecast in comparison.”

Senkbeil’s long term goal is to take this kind of research and use it to help develop accurate and informative weather warning systems so people can make informed decisions about preparing for severe weather events.

In the meantime, the experience has proven to be once in a lifetime opportunity for applied learning that can’t be done by simply using a textbook in a classroom.

“The research trip was an incredible experience,” Mason said. “Hopefully the data collected in this research will give us a better understanding of who will evacuate when, and the reasoning behind their decisions.”