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Stock image of a hurricane from space

A Brief Conversation with Dr. Marshall Shepherd Ahead of Hurricane Ian's Landfall

As Hurricane Ian barreled towards the western coast of Florida this week, Dr. Marshall Shepherd was hard at work fielding questions from a variety of high profile news outlets requesting his expertise on the storm's catastrophic potential. As Ian crept over the mountain-less region of Cuba and into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it become evident that the storm's impact would be significant.

Despite Dr. Shephard's busy schedule responding to mounting concerns, he was gracious enough to briefly speak with me about the situation as it was unfolding. According to Dr. Shepherd, Hurricane Ian was identified as a significant threat to the western coast of Florida because of key geographical and meteorological features. "What makes the storm dangerous for Tampa Bay is that it has the potential to be a major storm and could stall over the area or just off the coast. Either way, it places the entire region in the "dirty" side of the hurricane. The right side is where the most significant winds and storm surge are." Dr. Shepherd continued, "The Gulf waters are extremely warm and undisturbed. Hurricanes actually like high ocean heat content and there is plenty of it in the Gulf. The Cuban land mass will not be a significant factor. Also, the fetch of the wind oriented with the Bay and the shelf region off the coast of Tampa Bay cause significant concern regarding storm surge, particularly if the storm stalls." Beyond meteorological features, Dr. Shepherd brought up some key social factors that could give rise to a dangerous scene playing out such as significantly developed infrastructure in the region, socially-vulnerable communities, and hurricane amnesia.

Finally, when asked about the potential impacts for the Athens area, Dr. Shepherd told me, "Right now, it looks like our area could experience rainfall and perhaps tropical storm gusts on Saturday. It could be enough to down trees or cause power outages but that will ultimately depend on the track of the storm." Since I spoke with Dr. Shepherd, Hurricane Ian's track has changed slightly, minimizing impacts to the Athens area. Nonetheless, the Weather Channel reports the potential strong for strong wind gusts throughout the weekend.


Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor, Director, Atmospheric Sciences Program

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