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FIU receives $1M for storm surge risk mapping throughout the Caribbean
An example of the latest storm surge risk mapping efforts in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Belize.

FIU receives $1M for storm surge risk mapping throughout the Caribbean

October 18, 2021 at 9:00am

FIU researchers will help hurricane-vulnerable regions map and forecast flooding to save lives and infrastructure with a two-year $1 million award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Water related hazards of hurricanes kill more people than the winds. Caribbean and Central American nations are vulnerable to dangerous storm surge and coastal flooding from hurricanes, but many of these nations have limited surge and flood mapping capabilities and forecast systems able to take advantage of the latest technologies.

To help solve this pressing real world problem, FIU will continue assisting NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC), which in 2016 initiated the Caribbean Coastal Inundation and Forecast Demonstration Project (CIFDP-C) to develop improved and cost-effective products for storm surge monitoring and warning for Caribbean island-nations and Central American coastal areas.

“FIU, and all of South Florida really, is also part of the Caribbean, and we are proud to be assisting the National Hurricane Center in helping the nations and peoples of the region improve risk management and save lives,” said Richard Olson, director of FIU’s Extreme Events Institute.

CIFDP is an initiative of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to increase preparedness in countries most vulnerable to direct impacts from hurricane hazards. That project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. The award funding from NOAA is part of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS), a NOAA Center of Excellence at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Since 2016, and based on the path-breaking research of the late Professor Keqi Zhang of the FIU Department of Earth and Environment, FIU and the NHC have partnered to improve storm surge forecasts for Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), the eastern coast of Mexico, Belize, the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Work is currently ongoing for the Bahamas, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. The new project will expand that assistance to 24 additional nations in the Caribbean and Central America.

“It is an honor to continue and expand the work with the National Hurricane Center of my late mentor and friend Professor Zhang. Improved storm surge mapping saves lives, we all know this, and it drives our program,” said principal investigator Yuepeng Li, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research with FIU’s Extreme Events Institute who will lead the FIU team and assist the Storm Surge Unit at the National Hurricane Center in this collaborative effort.

Jamie Rhome, project lead for the NHC’s Storm Surge Unit, is equally excited to be advancing this project, adding that “the ability to bring storm surge risk mapping and real-time forecasting capabilities to the Caribbean will revolutionize the region's ability to prepare for and recover from the impacts of hurricanes.”

The 24 Caribbean and the Central America nations that will receive the new storm surge products include Aruba, Curacao, Saint Maarten, Saint Barthélemy, Anguilla, Trinidad and Tobago, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Martinique, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Dominica, Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, EI Salvador, and Honduras.