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Arriving as a Category 4 storm on the week of the 15th anniversary of a catastrophic hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Laura is the strongest storm to make landfall in Louisiana in 160 years, says a coastal engineer who teaches at Northeastern.

Packing winds of up to 150 miles per hour, the hurricane slammed into the Louisiana coast on Wednesday, killing at least six people, knocking down homes and businesses, and leaving at least one million people across the region without power.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, city and county officials in Texas and Louisiana issued evacuation orders affecting more than 500,000 residents, while Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson declared an emergency. As state and local officials brace for Laura’s impact, they rely on numerical weather prediction models developed by researchers like Qin Jim Chen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern, to help them make decisions about road closures, flood monitoring, and evacuation orders, along with other life-and-death matters.

Chen, whose research focuses on coastal engineering and science, develops and applies numerical models to address how coastal communities can strengthen their resilience against powerful storms. These models, a combination of theoretical frameworks and field measurements, forecast phenomena such as storm surge and the impact on landscapes and vegetation.


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