Scientists Issued Patent for Work To More Completely Describe Hurricane Strength and Potential Impact

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New scale is designed to better and more clearly convey assessments for each of the two primary destructive elements of a hurricane.

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The IKE scale provides a better early warning of the potential risks for surge and wind damage that can prove useful in personal planning for evacuations.

Dr. Timothy Reinhold, senior vice president of research and chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and Dr. Mark Powell, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories , have been awarded a U.S. patent for their integrated kinetic energy (IKE) scale.

The IKE scale is designed to better and more clearly convey assessments for each of the two primary destructive elements of a hurricane: 1) the wind destructive potential (WDP) and 2) the storm surge/wave destructive potential (SDP). The SDP is particularly important for large storms that may not necessarily have high wind destructive intensity ratings, such as Hurricane Katrina (2005) and Hurricane Ike (2008).

Tropical cyclone intensity in the Atlantic Basin is currently defined only by maximum sustained wind speed. Specifically, “the highest one-minute average wind at an elevation of 10 meters (33 feet) with an over-water, unobstructed exposure associated with that weather system at a particular point in time,” is assigned a 1 to 5 damage potential rating using the Saffir–Simpson scale, explained Dr. Reinhold.

“The Saffir–Simpson scale serves a useful purpose for communicating relative risk to individuals and communities, but is a poor measure of the actual, destructive potential of a hurricane because it depends only on wind speed,” said Dr. Reinhold. “A number of years ago, storm surge height were added to the Saffir-Simpson scale, but it recently was abandoned by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) because it is so poorly correlated with wind speed alone.”

The WDP component of the IKE scale was developed using loss data from land falling hurricanes, including 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. IKE also relates to the stress that the wind exerts on the ocean surface that helps form waves and storm surge. The SDP was developed using the wind fields of 23 hurricanes of various sizes and intensities. The new IKE scale offers a better differentiation between risk perception of wind and surge, which is an important goal for any new metric of hurricane destructive potential.

Based on the IKE of the wind field, ratings in the IKE scale assess destructive potential by a continuous scale that ranges from 0 to 5.99, comparable to the current Saffir-Simpson scale range, with which most people are familiar.

“I believe that the IKE scale provides a more complete assessment of the potential risks for surge and wind damage that can prove useful in personal planning for evacuations,” explained Dr. Reinhold. “Further research will need to be conducted to determine how this new information impacts evacuation decisions.”

Powell and his colleagues at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory will be investigating this scale further this season using their H*Wind hurricane wind field analysis system. Research wind field products are available at; however, these products and the IKE scale are not official National Weather Service products. NOAA’s official hurricane forecast products are produced by the (NHC).

“As the storm gets closer to landfall, actual predictions of wind speeds and surge levels in feet, which are based on local conditions issued by the NHC, will provide the best final guidance for preparations and evacuations. However, it is my hope that additional estimates of surge potential from the IKE scale could help insure that those who should evacuate do so,” Dr. Reinhold emphasized.

The basis for the patent issued June 28 (US 7,970,543 B2) was a research paper published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society by Powell and Reinhold in 2007.

To arrange an interview with Dr. Reinhold, contact Joseph King at 813-675-1045/813-442-2845, jking(at)ibhs(dot)org or via direct message on Twitter @jsalking.

About IBHS
IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks to residential and commercial property by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.

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