When a hurricane approaches waiting until an official evacuation order to leave town can often mean getting stuck in hours of traffic. But what if you could calculate the risks and make a decision earlier? A new hurricane calculator unveiled this week in Houston promises to help residents with exactly that dilemma.
The calculator, developed by a team at Rice University, takes granular data from the National Weather Service and detailed information about 1.2 million homes in Houston. Several sophisticated computer models then work to give clear risk assessments for those homes. Residents go to the Storm Risk Calculator site, type in their address, and the site displays the risk of storm surge, wind, rainfall and power outage at that location in real time.
“The genesis of this project was Hurricane Rita, when we all literally ran for our lives. It became clear that the transportation infrastructure of Houston could not sustain 4 million people on the roads at once,” Devika Subramanian, a computer science professor at Rice University who helped develop the calculator, explained in a video about how it works.
During Hurricane Rita, she and other residents living near but not in evacuation areas weren’t entirely sure what to do. Subramanian wanted more information. After Rita, she teamed up with political science professor Robert Stein, civil and environmental engineering assistant professor Leonardo Dueñas-Osorio, and Houston Advanced Research Center researcher Birnur Guven, and spent several years creating the user-friendly system.
This year the team will monitor the site, using survey data from site visitors to improve the risk estimates. They also plan to expand the calculator so it can show risks for commercial properties, apartment buildings, and newly constructed homes.
Image: A screenshot of the new Hurricane Calculator for Houston residents developed by a team from Rice University. Credit: Rice University (video).