Rice U. experts available during 2017 hurricane season


David Ruth

Rice U. experts available during 2017 hurricane season

HOUSTON — (May 25, 2017) — Earlier today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its 2017 Atlantic hurricane outlook.

Hurricane radarNOAA predicted an above-normal hurricane season this year. Forecasters predict a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season.

NOAA also predicted a 70 percent likelihood of 11-17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 5-9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 2-4 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1, and Rice University has experts available for media interviews about storms as they approach the United States and their aftermath.

Rice’s hurricane experts, by topic area, include:

Hurricane and flooding risks and impact

Phil Bedient, Rice’s Herman Brown Professor of Engineering, director of the SSPEED Center and designer of the Flood Alert System (FAS4) can discuss flooding issues that arise from tropical depressions, hurricanes and other severe storms. In his 2012 book, “Lessons from Hurricane Ike,” Bedient and more than 20 other researchers gave a 194-page account of what they learned from studying the 2008 storm that caused nearly $25 billion in damages and killed dozens. Bedient has recently studied the massive flooding from 2015 and 2016 in Houston and Louisiana and can speak to the effects of urban-development practices on these floods.

Jim Blackburn is co-director of Rice’s SSPEED Center, director of Rice’s undergraduate minor in energy and water sustainability, a professor in the practice of environmental law in Rice’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, a practicing environmental attorney and owner of a planning firm called Sustainable Planning and Design. He can speak about the impact that widespread property development has had on storm and flood risks in the Houston-Galveston region, and he can address the local, state and federal regulatory measures that were enacted to mitigate those risks. Blackburn also can address the environmental and economic sustainability of regional hurricane protection proposals, including structural options for dikes, levees and gates in and around Galveston Bay and nonstructural alternatives that aim to use coastal wetlands and prairies as natural, protective storm barriers.

John Anderson, the W. Maurice Ewing Chair in Oceanography and professor of Earth science, academic director of Rice’s Shell Center for Sustainability and author of the book “The Formation and Future of the Upper Texas Coast,” can explain how hurricanes have impacted and helped shape the modern coastlines of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and other Gulf Coast states.

Environmental and economic impact

Jamie Padgett, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering, has assessed dozens of bridges and hundreds of petrochemical storage tanks in the Houston-Galveston area to determine which are most vulnerable to failure during a hurricane. Padgett can describe how bridges and storage tanks commonly fail due to storm-surge flooding, and she can discuss methods that engineers are developing to design more durable structures and to retrofit older facilities to withstand storm damage.

Pedro Alvarez, the George R. Brown Professor of Materials Science and Nanoengineering and director of the National Engineering Research Center for Nanotechnology-Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT Center), can discuss the environmental impact and the cleanup efforts that communities can face when large hurricanes strike and the emergency water supply.

Energy industry

Ken Medlock, director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, can address what can happen to gasoline prices around the country when refining and pipeline infrastructure is negatively affected for an extended time.

Satish Nagarajaiah, professor of civil and environmental engineering, can speak about the threats hurricanes pose to offshore drilling platforms. With funding from both industry and the Department of Energy, his research group has explored new techniques for actively monitoring the structural integrity of deep-water platforms and risers. The algorithms and techniques from his group allow managers to estimate fatigue damage and plan for maintenance before costly, dangerous failures can occur.

Corporate response and leadership

Tom Kolditz, director of Rice’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders, can discuss crisis leadership strategies with examples taken from hurricanes Katrina and Sandy; he uses the two events in his presentations, and they are included in his book, “In Extremis Leadership: Leading as If Your Life Depended on It.” The Doerr Institute at Rice is the most comprehensive leader development initiative at any top 20 university. This past year, the Doerr Institute paired professional leadership coaches with over 900 Rice graduate and undergraduate students—more than 15 percent of the student body–to create and execute individualized leader development plans.


Bob Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science, can talk about local government reaction to a storm and the politics that are in play. He also can speak about the city of Houston’s Storm Risk Calculator, which he helped develop at Rice.

Mark Jones, professor of political science and fellow in political science at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, can discuss government reaction to a storm and the politics that are in play.

National Hurricane Center names for 2017 Atlantic storms:



For more information or to schedule an interview with a Rice University expert, contact David Ruth, director of national media relations at Rice, at david@rice.edu or 713-348-6327.

Rice University has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations on Twitter @RiceUNews.

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,879 undergraduates and 2,861 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for happiest students and for lots of race/class interaction by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/RiceUniversityoverview.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.