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Weather woes emphasize need for SSPEED

There's little doubt storms will continue to slam the Gulf Coast, and even reason to believe such storms will become more severe and more frequent.

How we handle them will be the primary topic of discussion when Rice University hosts the Severe Storm Prediction and Global Climate Impact in the Gulf Coast Conference Oct. 29-31.

SSPEED is short for the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center, primary sponsor of the conference. Rice leads the organization of Gulf Coast universities, emergency managers and public and private partners formed to address deficiencies in storm prediction, disaster planning and evacuations, all topics that will be covered in depth at the conference.

"The idea is to talk about increasing intensities and increasing precipitation from severe storms," said Phil Bedient, Rice's Herman Brown Professor of Engineering and an expert on flood warning and storm surges. "We're seeing it. What's causing it? I don't know, but if you look at the last 60 years, we've got the data to prove it."

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center and former director of the Houston/Galveston forecast office of the National Weather Service, will lead more than 60 speakers and panelists with the first of five keynote talks, giving his department's perspective on the "people problems" with hurricanes.

Other keynotes will be by Brian Wolshon of Louisiana State University on evacuation traffic simulation, Sam Brody of Texas A&M on developing a coastal communities planning atlas, Michael Savonis of the Federal Highway Administration on the impact of climate change on the Gulf Coast and Rice professor John Anderson on predicting the rise of sea levels.

Several sessions will address the impact of Hurricane Ike. The first panel, titled "Lessons Learned," will include Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and KHOU-TV weatherman Gene Norman, among others. "It's an obvious thing for us to do," said Bedient.

He said extending the reach of the conference has drawn notice from abroad. Currently, he expects technical representatives from the Dominican Republic as well as a group of engineers from Libya to attend.

This will be the third SSPEED conference, following lower-key editions after Tropical Storm Allison rolled through South Texas in 2001 and again after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.


Contact: David Ruth
Rice University

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