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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Long Island Is Overdue for a Storm

    It is mid-afternoon on a typical Tuesday, the sun is still out, and people are scurrying to their classes. But on South Campus, in the woods secluded between Tabler Quad and South P, the sound of shuffling feet is replaced by an undisturbed tranquility.

    Paying no attention to the sunny weather, Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences graduate student Tom Di Liberto is already thinking about storms.

    Crouched at a desk, isolated in the corner of an office where the only spot of color is a mustard yellow chair, Di Liberto models a massive hurricane simulation on a desktop computer.

    Without ever having physically observed the weather for data, Di Liberto has spent nearly two years modeling the hurricane simulation to improve forecasting, in hopes of saving lives from the devastation and destruction of storm surges.

    Areas from the south shore of Long Island to Battery Park in Manhattan have no protection from flooding.

    The Stony Brook Storm Surge Research Group, of which Di Liberto is a part, has been collaborating with the National Weather Service and the Port Authority of New York. The group collects and presents data and research to those who issue warnings and implement emergency evacuation plans.

    “The problem is, most people get lulled into a sense of security because storms haven’t happened for a while, and it’s easy to forget their potential for damage,” Di Liberto said.

    The six-year-old group, composed of Stony Brook students and faculty, investigates the threats of a rising sea level on storm surges and studies how to improve short-term forecasting.

    A storm surge is water propelled toward the shore by winds associated with a storm. Storm surges pose the greatest threat for loss of life related to a hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.

    In September, a storm surge of 15 feet from Hurricane Ike induced extensive flooding along the Texas-Louisiana border. Skyscrapers became scrap metal, unidentified bodies remained buried beneath the water and debris and survivors were left homeless, without electricity or clean drinking water.

    According to some experts, Long Island is due for a similar storm.

    “It’s not a question of if a storm surge will happen but when it’s going to happen,” said Brian A. Colle, editor of the American Meteorological Society’s Weather and Forecasting Department and faculty advisor to the group. “Areas not flooded in the past will become more vulnerable.”

    A few doors down, in room 135, senior physical oceanography student and member of the research group, Jindong Wang is devoted to the numerical modeling of storm surges. Storm surges are difficult to observe directly, let alone forecast. Models serve as test cases.

    “The model is not perfect, and there may be a problem with accuracy so we work on how to improve our model and combine data to make a better forecast,” Wang said. Forecasting saves lives that would otherwise be lost in the event of a storm.

    Hurricane Gloria, which Di Liberto is modeling, struck Long Island in 1985, ripping roofs off houses and leaving people without water and power, similar to the destructive effects of Hurricane Ike.

    “People had to be rescued from their cars by people in scuba gear,” Di Liberto said.

    The National Weather Service recently implemented a new slot that would position data from Stony Brook in its graphic system, according to John Murray, a Stony Brook graduate student who is interning as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Brookhaven.

    The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, along with the Meteorology Club, hosted a coastal storms conference from Nov. 12 through 14 as an effort to inform the public about the climate and storm research.

    “The weather governs our lives whether we think about it or not,” said Alex Titus, president of the Meteorology Club.

    “Weather forecasters try to save people by alerting them of severe weather conditions,” said Titus, who has interned at the meteorology department for News12 Long Island and News12 Weather and Traffic.

    “We love talking about the weather, but no one ever wants to talk about it with us,” Di Liberto said.

    With a chuckle and a slight shrug, Di Liberto turns around to continue modeling his hurricane simulation, expected to take an additional several months.

    Running models is not as simple as turning on a light switch, but there is no time to wait before another hurricane hits.

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