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US expects active hurricane season, Gulf region vulnerable
by Xinhua writers Wang Hongbin, Zhang Yongxing and Zhao Xiaoqing
Houston TX (XNA) Jun 18, 2013


File image.

With this year's first named tropical storm Andrea sweeping across its east coast, the United States is likely to see a score more ahead, a few of which might make landfall along the hurricane-prone Mexico Gulf, an expert here has told Xinhua in a recent interview.

According to projections made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Hurricane Center, the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season is an "active" one, noted Philip B. Bedient, a professor of environmental engineering at the Houston-based Rice University.

The expected number of storms ranges from a dozen to a score, NOAA predicted in late May, adding that the likelihood is 70 percent. Of all the storms, 7 to 11 could strengthen into hurricanes, including 3 to 6 major ones.

Bedient explained: "The number is only a rough indication and is far from accurate due to the complexity and difficulty of forecasting. Remember, the storms formed over the ocean do not necessarily hit the U.S.. Most of them simply spin off into the Atlantic and only the ones which come into the Gulf could hit something."

If a major hurricane does hit the Gulf, the U.S. states of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana tend to get mostly hit, while Texas may get fewer. However, Bedient warned that it has been five years since Texas was hit by a major hurricane in 2008, when Ike slammed the southern port of Galveston and claimed 96 lives, and that Texas cannot afford to slack its preparedness for a possible hurricane.

Bedient's concerns were shared by the Weather Channel, which ranked Houston as the fifth most vulnerable city to the "major impact" from a hurricane. The weather-devoted cable TV pointed out that Hurricane Ike narrowly missed the city area of Houston and only hit its suburbs. The last major Houston hurricane was Alicia in 1983, making it 29 years overdue for a big one, noted the Channel.

Asked about hurricane prevention and relief, Bedient, who also heads a research center on severe storm prediction, education and evacuation from disasters, said that the most difficult part is forecasting.

Though equipped with a combination of satellites, seven or eight latest computer models and other predictive systems, U.S. scientists still find it a "mission impossible" to pin down the exact location prior to hurricanes' landfalls.

"They are only able to do it 24 hours before hurricanes land," Bedient noted. "Even within 24 hours, the hurricane can change its course as Ike did in 2008, when it shifted its landfall 50 miles away from the predicted location."

The not-timely-enough forecasting causes a problem to evacuation, especially in metropolises as there is not enough time to evacuate a huge population within a span of just 24 hours. The evacuation efforts "usually should take 72 hours," he explained.

"But when told to evacuate, residents should heed the notice and evacuate immediately," the professor suggested, pointing out that a great many victims of hurricanes Katrina and Ike waited till the very last minute at the dear cost of their own lives.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and other coastal areas along the Gulf in 2005 and killed more than 1,800 people, marking it one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Bedient believed that New Orleans, "the most prone to hurricane attacks," now has a much better chance of weathering a major hurricane should it happen, because in the wake of the Katrina tragedy as much as 14 billion dollars was spent in upgrading and rebuilding levees, flood gates and other protection systems.

"The lessons we could draw from Katrina and other big storms are that these problems are complex. They are technical, social and economical. You cannot just address the technical, you must get the populace and the government actively involved and actively paying attention," Bedient told Xinhua.

"And in city planning you must try not to let the vulnerable population build and expand in zones that are in high risks. With wind, high flood water and storm surge, hurricanes can kill many many people whose houses are not at an appropriate elevation," he added.

International cooperation in storm relief is also important. Bedient said that his center is now in close contact with Europe and China in monitoring and studying storms.

"We believe through education, proper information about evacuation and sheltering, you can manage the problem. You can learn to live with the hurricane. After all, we will never be without hurricanes," he concluded.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

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