By Luke Gentile
Hurricane Florence marches toward the East Coast, continuing to build up speed and strength. It is expected to make landfall Friday, hitting the Carolinas the hardest according to the National Hurricane Center.
Although students at the University of Maryland shouldn’t expect hurricane-force gusts, Will Miller, a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science who is funded for his research on hurricanes, said there is cause for concern in the area.
“The reason is that we don’t need hurricane force winds to cause a lot of problems here. There is still a lot of uncertainty, but I would say there is a 50 percent chance that early next week, especially Monday, we would actually have some weather hazards,” Miller said.
He said these hazards could come in the forms of heavy rains, severe thunderstorms and the possibility of tornadoes. This weather could flood basements and knock down trees around campus.
George Wu, a junior business major, said, “Recently, people and the news have been saying it’s picking up, and it’s actually becoming a big deal. People are already evacuating on the East Coast, so I think it’s something we need to start worrying about.”
Hurricane Florence went through what is called “rapid intensification,” Miller said. This happens when a storm’s wind speed increases by greater than 30 knots in 24 hours, and Florence well exceeded that.
This, coupled with low wind shears and high levels of moisture, makes for a hurricane much more disastrous than Hurricane Sandy, which rocked the East Coast in late 2012 and caused 147 direct fatalities, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“This is an extremely powerful storm, and the types of impact we can expect (where it makes landfall) will be a storm surge that will wipe out structures along the beach, winds in excess of 130 mph and significant hurricane gusts are going to move well inland,” Miller said.
He said the odds that the university area will encounter winds of that strength are very low, due to a new development over the last two days.
“The development has been a strong high-pressure cell developing over the Tennessee River Valley. The airflow is clockwise around the pressure system and that means the winds will have a southward push. This cell is acting like a block to the north of the storm,” Miller said.
He is concerned, however, that UMD students and area locals may see this new development and let their guards down.
Miller said, “Even though we can see that the storm will spin down, there are some solutions that are still taking the remnants of the storm up into West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Therefore, putting us on the eastern side of the storm track, which is the more dangerous side for heavy rains and tornadoes from a landfalling tropical system.”
Wu is not taking any chances if the weather turns bad.
“I’m going to treat this like a really bad thunderstorm or snowstorm, just stay inside,” he said.
If students are unsure of how to prepare, Wu said looking up answers online is a good option.
“I would look it up,” he said. “You can type in something like, ‘What to do if a hurricane is coming?’ You hear on the news that a hurricane has caused homes to be evacuated and flooding in the streets. So, people have advice ready.”
Both Wu and Miller agree that the safest option is to stay at home and hunker down if the weather goes south early next week.
“There’s not much else you can do if you don’t want to risk it,” Wu added. “Hopefully you live in the same building with some of your friends, and you can go hang out with them and occupy yourself for a day or however long it takes to pass.”