ESE’s Rick Luettich helps keep residents safe in coastal NC

July 19, 2013
Researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are helping North Carolinians better prepare for hurricanes and tropical storms through the use of advanced computing technology and collaboration with local and state emergency managers.

Dr. Rick Luettich (Photo by Dan Sears)

Dr. Rick Luettich (Photo by Dan Sears)

Rick Luettich, ScD, developer of the Advanced Circulation and Storm Surge model (ADCIRC), and colleagues use the model to provide coastal communities with detailed data about storm surge, wave heights and potential for flooding. ADCIRC is a highly developed computer program for solving the equations of motion for moving fluid on a rotating earth.

Luettich, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at Gillings School of Global Public Health, works with researchers at UNC’s Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) to develop high-resolution (often, three-dimensional) models that provide more detail and accuracy than do typical surge forecasts.

Through collaboration with UNC’s Institute for the Environment, the model results are shared with emergency managers in coastal communities. When storms or hurricanes threaten the coast, the model results help emergency personnel make informed decisions related to road closings, evacuations, and search and rescue.

“Rick’s model is another tool for helping people living in coastal communities prepare themselves for the inevitable – being affected sooner or later by a hurricane or tropical storm,” said Bill Gentry, MPA, director of the Community Preparedness and Disaster Management Program in the Gillings School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “A number of tools are useful, and we need to take advantage of all of them.”

Gentry noted that, a website that has tracked storms since 1997, lists three North Carolina cities in their top ten cities affected by hurricanes and tropical storms. Cape Hatteras is first on the list, Morehead City is second, and Wilmington ranks sixth. In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast an active or extremely active hurricane season in 2013.

Luettich also is professor of marine sciences in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and is director of UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, N.C.

His research and its impact were featured in the Raleigh News and Observer on July 10.



Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or