Assessing Opal's Impact

by David J. Greenwood, P.E., (M.ASCE), Assistant Vice President; Michael Baker Corp., Alexandria, VA,
Darryl J. Hatheway, Coastal and Oceanographic Engineering Specialist; Michael Baker Corp., Alexandria, VA,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1996, Vol. 66, Issue 1, Pg. 40-43

Document Type: Feature article


Geographic information systems and other high-technology tools were used to quantify the effects of Hurricane Opal in October 1995. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with consultants used these tools to predict the impact in order to allow local disaster response officials and citizens to cope with the storm. Engineers also used computer software and GIS to quantify the extent of the damage. This information was verified by field studies, and the information was used to deal with insurance claims. The maps created displayed impact-zone information, including number of housing units, insured value of exposed properties, roadways expected to be flooded and alternate evacuation and transportation supply corridors. The hurricane center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service provided information on storm surges and wind fields. Other software predicted coastal and inland flooding scenarios for specific coastal areas based on computer simulations of storm events using various storm parameters. Opal was the 15th storm in the most active hurricane season since 1933, when there were 21 tropical storms. In 1995, there were 19 named hurricanes and storms. The state of Florida has had more hurricanes than any other U.S. state over the past century, and because of the state's highly developed coastline, property and infrastructure are vulnerable and damages can be considerable. Preliminary estimates suggest that Opal might be the third costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. this century, after hurricanes Andrew and Hugo.

Subject Headings: Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones | Storms | Geographic information systems | Infrastructure vulnerability | Information systems | Floods | Field tests

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