USF's Hurricane Experts

USF faculty knowledgeable in hurricane science, research and impact provide expertise to media organizations.


TAMPA, Fla. (June 1, 2011) – Florida hasn’t had a direct hit from a hurricane since 2005, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicts a busy season this year with 12 to 18 named storms, 6 to 10 hurricanes and 3 to 6 major storms with winds exceeding 111 mph.


Welcome to the 2011 hurricane season, which kicks off today and runs through Nov. 30 in the Atlantic and Gulf coast regions.


Several USF faculty members have a great depth of expertise across various disciplines.  They also make themselves available to serve as sources for the news media to address a variety of hurricane-related issues. Many of these hurricane experts are international leaders in their areas who have gathered unique insights into hurricane preparation, evacuation and storm science. In addition, USF researchers have explored the socioeconomic and psychological dimensions of hurricanes, including the impact of storms on Florida’s vulnerable populations.


Hurricanes, Wind and Storm Surge


  • Distinguished University Professor Robert Weisberg (College of Marine Science) studies ocean circulation and ocean-atmosphere interaction in the tropics, on continental shelves and in estuaries. Predicting hurricane storm surge is one of his areas of expertise. He directs a coastal ocean observing and modeling system for the west Florida continental shelf. He has served as a member of the National Research Council Committee on the New Orleans Regional Hurricane Protection System and is familiar with the destruction that occurred along the Mississippi coast. His simulations (with USF colleague Lianyuan Zheng) of storm surge scenarios for the greater Tampa Bay region may be found at Along with hurricane storm surge, Weisberg can comment on tropical ocean currents, sea surface temperature, and the relationship between these factors and climate.


  • Albert Hine (College of Marine Science) is a geological oceanographer who can talk about hurricanes in relation to the response of coastal and shelf depositional systems to sea-level fluctuations, climate changes, western boundary currents, antecedent topography, and sediment supply.


  • Jyotika Virmani (College of Marine Science) studies ocean-atmosphere interactions and ocean circulation in the tropics and on continental shelves. She researches ocean temperatures; and hurricane storm tracks, frequency, and intensity, and their possible connection to climate change. Virmani, executive director for Florida's Coastal Ocean Observing System Consortium at the Florida Institute of Oceanography, can comment on hurricane activity and the state’s coastal observing system. More information on the Florida COOS Consortium can be found at .


  • Lianyuan Zheng (College of Marine Science) has research interests focused on numerical simulations of circulation and water quality over the continental shelf, coastal ocean and estuaries. Zheng applies the high-resolution Finite Volume Coastal Ocean Model (FVCOM) to simulate storm surge in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.


  • Jennifer Collins (Department of Geology) is an assistant professor of geography whose research focuses on weather and climate. She particularly investigates tropical climatology and hurricane activity. She is currently studying the environmental factors influencing the variation of hurricane numbers in the Northeast Pacific and she is examining the anti-correlation between hurricane numbers in the Atlantic versus those in part of the Northeast Pacific ocean basin. In addition to her hurricane work, Collins addresses other areas related to weather and hazards. She works closely on projects with the National Weather Service involving tornados and fog and has studied behavior relating to hurricane evacuation. In addition she collaborates with international researchers and works in the area of climate change. She is an active member of the West Central Florida American Meteorological Society (AMS), and she is also a member of the Association of American Geographers and national AMS chapter.


  • Rebecca Wooten (Department of Mathmatics and Statistics) is a statistician working in environmental studies. She has several publications in the subject area, one of which reanalyzes the Saffir-Simpson Scale which describes different strength hurricanes with links to specific storms. She is currently working on a project to develop a new weather generator that will more accurately predict the track of a storm.  


Socioeconomic Impact of Disasters


  • Graham A. Tobin (Department of Geography) studies the social, economic and political aspects of natural disasters and has recently completed work on the hazards presented by hurricanes. The author of Natural Hazards, Tobin has examined floods in California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Idaho, and volcanoes in Ecuador and Mexico. He can also talk about risk areas and vulnerabilities to Hillsborough County.


  • John Barshaw, (Department of Sociology) has studied populations impacted by Hurricane Katrina. He has also done research on a variety of disasters including Chernobyl, the Indian Ocean tsunami and most recently the BP oil spill.  He has ongoing research into understanding how disasters exacerbate social inequality over time at the individual, organizational and societal levels. He has regularly served as a media expert on disasters.


Hurricanes and Children


  • Judith Becker Bryant (Department of Psychology) can comment on how to prepare children for traumatic events, such as hurricanes, and the impact that such events have on children. She is a national expert on developmental psychology, with a specific emphasis on language and social development in young children.


Hurricane Management and Response


  • Dr. Steve Morris, co-director of Bioterrorism and Disaster Training (USF College of Nursing), spent a month volunteering in southern Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where he served as medical advisor to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Morris has extensive experience working in a variety of disasters and disaster scenarios. He has designed and implemented a comprehensive training program for health professionals focusing on man-made and natural disasters, along with disease surveillance and reporting.


  • Mariaelena Bartesaghi (Department of Communication) is a faculty mentor for an NSF “Undergraduate Research Experience on Hurricanes and Other Disasters” conducted through the USF Honors College. She has studied Hurricane Katrina using discourse analysis to look closely at how coordination is accomplished during a disaster. Discourse analysis analyzes talk in interaction and the connection of talk to understanding and action. 


Community Safety and Worker Fatigue


  • Robert Nesbit (director, USF OSHA Training Institute Education Center) can comment on hurricane-related safety issues and health issues, and worker fatigue. The Center, based at the College of Public Health, offers training in the hazards associated with cleaning up debris; temporary roof repairs; dealing with downed power lines, fallen trees and portable power generators; safe use of chainsaws; and heat stress. He also can speak to the issue of adequate training for public and private public sector employees responsible for restoring utilities and removing debris left by storms.


Hurricanes and the Elderly


  • Amanda Smith (Eric Pfeiffer Suncoast Alzheimer’s Center at USF Health) can comment on how the stress of an impending natural disaster like a hurricane impacts the elderly, including those with memory disorders or other neuropsychiatric disorders. For those with dementia, news of a hurricane or its aftermath can have a particularly disorienting effect and aggravate behavioral problems, she says. Smith volunteered in Port Charlotte as part of an Area Agency on Aging assessment team following Hurricane Charley in August 2004.


  • Lisa Brown (Department of Aging and Mental Health, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences) conducts research on the impact of disasters on the mental health of adults and older adults. She is an expert on resilience, assessment, intervention and disaster mental health service use. In 2005, Brown counseled Hurricane Katrina evacuees as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. In 2004, she worked as a volunteer mental health clinician in a special needs shelter. She is an editor of the textbook, Psychology of Terrorism (Oxford, 2007) to which she contributed a chapter, “Older Adults and Terrorism,” describing the impact of natural and human-made disasters.


  • Kathryn Hyer (School of Aging Studies) conducted research on the impact of evacuations, electrical outages and other service disruptions, and other effects of the 2004 hurricanes on the elderly and their long-term care providers. She participated in a meeting of Gulf Coast State Long Term Care Facilities in their efforts to improve preparedness based on their experience with the 2004 storms. 


Hurricane Preparedness and Public Health


  • Michael Reid, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness (College of Public Health), has overseen the development and delivery of preparedness training for Florida’s public and private responders to hurricanes and other major events. Training in disaster behavioral health, field epidemiology, and crisis leadership has been provided to several thousand responders, primarily in the Florida Department of Health. Several of the center’s courses are required for service on Florida’s responder “strike teams.”


Community Preparedness and Recovery


  • Robin Ersing (School of Social Work) is an associate professor who studies community-based disaster preparedness to promote resilience in post-storm recovery. She is a trained and active Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member with Tampa Fire Rescue and an expert on vulnerabilities in under-resourced and lower-income communities.  Dr. Ersing is currently exploring the role of volunteer citizen responders to support the relief and recovery efforts of impacted communities. 


Disaster Management Training/Public Health Impacts of Natural Disasters


  • Thomas Mason, professor of environmental and occupational health (College of Public Health), has extensive experience in disaster preparedness training. He was co-director of the Homeland Security for Medical Executives Course (HLSMEC), which prepares senior medical officers, senior staff and civilian executive medical managers to meet the challenges and complexities of a natural disaster or a chemical, biological, radiologic, nuclear or explosive disaster in the U.S. and its territories. He is a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and serves as a special consultant on the epidemiology of disasters and injury response for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Injury Response.


Social Media


  • Kelli Burns (School of Mass Communications) is an expert on Social Media. She has studied extensively how Social Media is integrated into our lives and changes patterns of communication across the globe. She is the author of Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster Our Fascination with Popular Culture.