USF’s experts on hurricanes and weather include the College of Public Health

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USF faculty experts are ready to provide information on hurricanes ranging from storm surge to socioeconomic impact.

TAMPA, Fla. (June 4, 2013) – As the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, meteorologists from The Weather Channel list Tampa as the most vulnerable and overdue city for a hurricane.

At the same time, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict it could be a “very active” year.  NOAA’s outlook calls for a 70% chance of an above-normal season, including 13-20 named storms, 7-11 hurricanes, and 3-6 major hurricanes.


Whether the impact from those storms is felt in Florida, other parts of the United States, or internationally, professors at the University of South Florida have a great depth of expertise across various disciplines and are available as sources for the news media.

Many of USF’s hurricane experts are international leaders in their field of expertise 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 media and disaster planning issues.

The USF College of Public Health is home to several hurricane related experts and offers online concentrations in disaster management and humanitarian relief that lead to a graduate certificate and MPH degree.

Disaster Management Training/Public Health Impacts of Natural Disasters

Tom Mason

  • Thomas Mason (College of Public Health) is a professor of environmental and occupational health who 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. In response to the Federal Government’s request for a National Response Plan, he led the team which developed Florida’s All Hazards Preparedness Plan, addressed a statewide laboratory capacity strategic assessment, which included surge capacity; and developed a template for Florida’s Smallpox Preparedness Plans in 2002. 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.

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 and


Other university experts address the following areas:

Hurricanes, Wind and Storm Surge

  • 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 his area of expertise. A Distinguished University Professor, 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. 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 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 27 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) focuses 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 on weather and climate 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.  Her research also includes a project to develop a new weather generator that will more accurately predict the track of a storm and a project examining statistical analysis of tornado activity by day of the year in the United States, with the goal of advancing how we see and predict tornados.  Her current research also covers topics in hurricanes, floods, sinkholes, and risk management in natural disasters.

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 discourse and communication scholar who analyzes how language in use creates or constructs disaster in public consciousness. She is currently the Principal Investigator on a national communication grant on risk and was 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,” the roles of libraries and archives in disaster planning, preparedness, and response, as well as “Defining (the concept of) Risk,” in POROI: Project for the Rhetoric of Inquiry.

Hurricanes and the Elderly

  • Amanda Smith (USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, Director) studies 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) is a Certified Business Continuity Professional, Certified Business Analyst and Certified Public Accountant, who 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.

Social Media and Storms

  • Kelli Burns (School of Mass Communications) is an expert on social media. She can discuss the growing role Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media plays in natural disasters.  She has studied extensively how social media is integrated into our lives and changes patterns of communication. She is the author of Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster Our Fascination with Popular Culture.  Her research has appeared in numerous publications and she is often asked by media outlets to comment on and analyze social media issues.

By Adam Freeman.  Reposted from USF News