Eye on the Storm
Hassan S Mashriqui is an assistant professor-research in Luisiana State University. He has been the chief modeler of hurricane Katrina that struck the US gulf coast last year. He is currently working on Bay of Bengal storm surge modeling. He recently came to Bangladesh to attend a workshop on windstorm and storm surge mitigation. SWM's Mustafa Zaman talked to him on his work and inspiration.
SWM: What did you study to become a hurricane centre researcher and what was your inspiration?
Hassan S Mashriqui (HM): Basically, from the beginning I was studying water resources engineering, hydraulics and water circulations. So when I went back to the U.S. to do my masters I got involved in coastal circulation or river modeling and that led me to become a storm surge modeler.
SWM: What made you interested in such an unusual subject?
HM: Actually in America it is not an unusual subject. It's rather a very interesting and developing subject. In Bangladesh I found that it's pretty new and that made me even more excited. I realised that if I studied it there is a potential that I can apply this technology in Bangladesh and that's what I'm doing.
SWM: You are involved in a programme that is funded by the Board of Region? How did you get involved in this "model programme" ?
Bay of Bengal Storm
HM: Board of Region in Louisiana is an institution that funds leading-edge scientific research. And in the state of Louisiana when we developed a hurricane centre at the Louisiana State University (LSU), there as a research project I started to work on Bay of Bengal. That's how the Bay of Bengal storm surge modeling programme began. The board of region and LSU hurricane centre both supported me with funding as well as computer support, graduate student support and research material. It is pretty much normal research activity, because if we understand cyclone and storm surge at the Bay of Bengal or in Louisiana it can be applied in both the places. The benefit is mutual.
SWM: Would you give us some detail about the model programme which will warn the residents living along the coast of Bay of Bengal five days prior to the storm.
HM: Whenever a cyclone or depression forms in the Bay of Bengal, US navy and the government project for three to five days forecast of the track. It is done by a joint typhoon warning centre; it covers the entire Bay of Bengal. What we do is that we take that joint typhoon centre track and then forecast the storm surge that comes with the storm. As for example I studied the 1991 cyclone and I found out that pretty much thirty hours before the landfall they actually predicted where the landfall would be. If we had that information one day in advance we could've saved a lot of people in the islands of Moheshkhali, Kutubdia and Swandip. This time what we are doing is that we have a model that is ready and as soon as we have forecast for three to five days in advance, we'll use our super computer and within six to eight hours, we would be able to show where the storm surge would be and where the landfall would be.
SWM: What does a landfall mean?
HM: When the cyclone strikes it has its eye. Its wind is always counter-clock-wise. It rotates generally from south to north in a circular fashion around a low pressure zone called the eye. When it moves it goes from sea to land and wherever that crossing occurs, -- lets say the storm is coming to Chittagong near Karnaphuli, -- so we will be saying that Karnaphuli is the landfall location. That means where the storm is making landfall or crossing the coastline, and that's where the maximum strength of the storm surge is and that's where the maximum destruction is also expected to happen.
SWM: You said earlier to the press that when the world sees the benefit of the programme money will start to pour in. Has the programme attracted funds that you had anticipated?
|Hassan S Mashriqui
HM: Actually, when I said that I had no idea how it would work in general. I made a comment that people will provide the fund and this December it really came through. There was a seminar called "US/Bangladesh workshop on Windstorm and Storm Surge Mitigation". This seminar was funded by the United States National Science Foundation and LGED and Brac University in Bangladesh. Actually I came this time as a US delegate to attend this conference. We already have some funding that led me to interact with the local government and local agencies and they were very excited to see the kind of modeling we were doing. When I go back this time, I'll ask National Science Foundation and many other research funding agencies to support exclusively the Bay of Bengal storm surge mitigation programme. At this point I have no doubt that we will get funding because it will save millions of lives as well as property.
SWM: Do you think Bangladesh government would be interested in this particular model?
HM: Yes, indeed. The agency that does modeling in Bangladesh like the Institute of Water Modeling, which is under the Ministry of Water Resources, have already shown interest in signing a memorandum of understating. The department of meteorology, they too wanted to work with us. The Bangladesh government understands very much the importance of this programme and they are all way behind this programme. I was assured they will help as much as possible to get this programme running in Bangladesh. Our plan is that the LSU will develop this programme and then train Bangladeshi engineers so that within one to two years they exactly know how the model runs. And within five years it would be one of the best simulation programmes for the Bay of Bengal.
SWM: You were involved in the study and monitoring of hurricane Katrina that struck the US gulf coast in August 29 last year. Tell us about your experience.
HM: That was an experience of a life time. I was the only storm surge modeler assigned to do hurricane Katrina forecast. I have been doing storm surge modeling for two years. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Monday morning around six thirty Louisiana time. I was doing storm surge forecasting starting from Friday. So, almost for three consecutive days, I was continuously looking at that track that was provided by the American National Hurricane Centre. I followed that track and ran it through the super computer and warned the state of Louisiana and other states about how the storm surge would be. In most of the cases we do forecasting that is almost perfect, and this time it was exactly accurate. Thirty hours before the storm made landfall we showed which parts of New Orleans would be flooded and the way it would be flooded. It exactly came true.
SWM: The US government did not respond the way it should've.
HM: The part that we saw did not work well was evacuation. In our earlier research we found out that roughly 60,000 to 100,000 people at New Orleans do not have any means to get out of the city. Those are the poor people who got stranded. That's where nothing worked. We warned about them too to the authorities of the city and the government.
SWM: Tell us about your future plan.
HM: I've been doing research since 1991 in the US. Before that I was an engineer in the Water Development Board in Bangladesh and in some private agencies. All of my research works were related to riverbank development, storm surge or coastal modeling. At present I am attuned to the development of the storm surge model for the Bay of Bengal. It would be useful whenever a storm strikes.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006