USF’s Experts on Hurricanes and Weather

Professors knowledgeable in hurricane science, research and impact available for potentially busy season


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (May 30, 2012) Another year without a major hurricane making landfall would suit everyone. Nonetheless, AccuWeather’s 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season forecast predicts 12 named tropical storms, five named hurricanes and two major hurricanes – but possibly “less active than last year.” The Weather Channel weighs in with a similar forecast that calls for 11 named storms, six hurricanes and the same number of major hurricanes. NOAA’s expecting it to be “near normal.”


Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. 


Come what may, several USF faculty members have a great depth of expertise across various disciplines to share. 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, the role of social networks and social media and disaster planning issues.


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, the accompanying waves, and the damage that may be caused by these 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 C. Hine (College of Marine Science) is a geological oceanographer and coastal geologist who has lectured extensively to the public and to university students about the hazards presented to coastal zone management by high energy events particularly along sandy, barrier island coastal systems. He has provided testimony to a U. S. House Subcommittee about how the nation should accommodate eroding coastlines and migrating tidal inlets.
  • Jyotika Virmani (Florida Institute of Oceanography, housed at USF) has research interests focused on ocean-atmosphere interactions and ocean circulation in the tropics and on continental shelves. She has researched ocean and atmospheric conditions and their connection to hurricane storm tracks, frequency, and intensity and climate change. Virmani, associate director for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, can comment on hurricane activity and the state’s (and Gulf and SE Atlantic) coastal observing system. The Florida Institute of Oceanography is a Florida State University System Academic Infrastructure Support Organization, and in this capacity it operates the R/V Weatherbird II and the R/V Bellows, as well as the Keys Marine Lab. It has a state-wide membership of 26 institutions, including all the state universities, many private universities, non-profit organizations, state agencies, and a for-profit company, and as such, it provides a forum for marine science research and education discussions. More information on the Florida Institute of Oceanography can be found at Vimani’s blog on tropical storms 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 Geography, Environment and Planning) is an associate professor 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 activity in the North Atlantic and Eastern North Pacific and she is examining the anti-correlation between hurricane numbers in the North Atlantic versus those in part of the Eastern North Pacific Ocean basin. She has recently completed an extensive analysis of last year's North Atlantic hurricane season. She works closely on projects with the National Weather Service involving weather and hazards. She serves as Senior Personnel on the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates Program (which takes place this summer) and has studied behavior relating to hurricane evacuation. Collins is the president of the West Central Florida Chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), and she is the vice chair of the Association of American Geographers Climate Specialty Group.
  • Rebecca Wooten (Department of Mathematics 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, Environment and Planning) 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 Barnshaw, (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.
  • 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. Bartesaghi's recent writings in this subject area include, "What does 'coordination' mean? Hurricane Katrina and disaster metadiscourse," (in press), on the roles of libraries and archives in disaster planning, preparedness, and response, and "(Re)Defining the concept of risk," in POROI: Project for the Rhetoric of Inquiry.


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. More information is available at www.USFSafetyFlorida.Com and


Hurricanes and the Elderly


  • Amanda Smith (USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, Director) 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 (School of Aging Studies, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences) is an associate professor who conducts research on the impact of disasters on mental health and vulnerable populations. She is an expert on resilience, assessment, intervention and use of disaster mental health services. In 2005, Brown counseled Hurricane Katrina evacuees as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. After Hurricane Charley in 2004, she worked as a volunteer mental health clinician in a special needs shelter. Brown serves on state and national committees tasked with mental health response, develops crisis counseling programs, trains crisis counselors, and is an editor of the textbook, Psychology of Terrorism (Oxford, 2007).
  • Kathryn Hyer (Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging, School of Aging Studies) conducts research on the impact of evacuations, electrical outages and other service disruptions, and other effects on elders, especially in long-term care settings (nursing homes, assisted living facilities). She has written and published extensively about vulnerable elders and the structure of emergency response systems. Hyer has also received federal funding to examine the morbidity and mortality resulting from evacuation of nursing home residents in Louisiana and Texas.


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. She is also a member of ICAD (International Communities Active in Disasters), examining the impact of disaster preparedness and recovery on limited English proficiency (LEP) populations in urban and rural communities.  She is the author of "Surviving Disaster: The Role of Social Networks,” a tool for disaster planning and relief efforts. The book covers the basics of disaster response and the role of social networks, providing essential terminology, theories, analysis, and case examples, with descriptions of methods that worked and did not work for a variety of populations facing different types of disasters within and outside the United States.


  • Mario Iezzoni  - Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida (SBDC at USF)- As a Certified Business Continuity Professional, Certified Business Analyst and Certified Public Accountant, he provides no-cost consulting services to small businesses in the areas of disaster preparedness, management and recovery;  healthcare; and taxes.  In the event of a disaster, Iezzoni will deploy for on-the-spot disaster recovery assistance on a 38-foot RV equipped with laptops, printers, satellite communications and supplies. He will also help business owners to work through forms and applications needed in the recovery process.


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 was commissioned at the CDC in 1967, and most recently served as a captain (0-6) in the U.S. Public Health Service Ready Reserve 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, and also special assistant for Environmental Health, Division of Health Studies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/ Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.


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.


Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.