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Coast-based MSU prof develops ultimate hurricane reference guide


University Relations
News Bureau (662) 325-3442
Contact: Phil Hearn
Nov. 12, 2004


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Pat Fitzpatrick

STARKVILLE, Miss.--Pat Fitzpatrick’s intense interest in and knowledge of tropical storms just might be congenital, considering his birth in the immediate aftermath of one of the nation’s more ferocious hurricanes.

“I was born in New Orleans right after Hurricane Betsy (in 1965),” said the scholar and writer on the subject of such natural calamities. “In fact, my mother was in the hospital as a precaution during the hurricane.”

Also a resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Houston, Texas, during his youth, Fitzpatrick said he became “fascinated with all aspects of meteorology as I grew up because of weather’s impact on these areas.”

An associate research professor at the Stennis Space Center office of Mississippi State University’s GeoResources Institute, Fitzpatrick is the author of a new book on hurricanes set for release in spring 2005 by ABC-CLIO. The Santa Barbara, Calif.-based publisher produces educational and reference works focusing on history and social studies.

Fitzpatrick’s book, “Hurricanes: A Reference Handbook,” is a follow-up to his earlier work, “Natural Disasters: Hurricanes,” which was published in 1999 while he was an assistant professor of meteorology at Jackson State University.

“Hurricanes are still the ultimate chess match,” he said. “Will that disturbance become a tropical depression? Will this hurricane rapidly intensify? Where will it go?

“Track forecasts have seen dramatic improvements in the last 30 years but, as seen this past summer, more research is required,” noted the MSU professor, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology from Texas A&M University and a doctorate in atmospheric sciences from Colorado State.

Both Fitzpatrick books are easily accessible reference works that reveal the workings of savage tropical storms, chart their actions and cycles, assess their economic and environmental impact, and review the latest research on hurricanes. Not meant to be read from beginning to end—each chapter is unique in content—the books are designed primarily for students, teachers, emergency managers, public officials, journalists, and meteorologists, as well as “hurricane buffs” and the general public.

According to the author, however, the latest work includes expanded storm chronology and scientist biography sections; a new chapter on the global perspective of hurricanes; an in-depth discussion of hurricane preparedness and disaster recovery; and updated information on forecasting techniques, hurricane life cycles, and the mystery of why hurricanes have little lightning.

“From killer storms to their implications for the insurance premiums of U.S. residents, this much-awaited update of the first edition explores the ecological, social and economic consequences of hurricanes and their effects on both coastal and inland areas,” the publisher said in describing Fitzpatrick’s latest work.

Fitzpatrick said it also addresses some misconceptions, such as the infamous “hurricane party,” which was widely reported to have occurred at the Richelieu Manor apartments just before the three-story structure in Pass Christian was destroyed by Hurricane Camille in 1969.

“The hurricane party never happened, nor were the number of deaths associated with the apartment inhabitants accurate,” said Fitzpatrick.

He said his latest work also includes a discussion of “a 1954 rocket photo,” which “played a large role in motivating the development of satellites.

“This photo showed a probable tropical system that had been missed in the observation network,” he explained. “They realized the next step was to have permanent photos from space, and the satellite era was born.

“Unbelievably, this storm never was added to the official hurricane database,” he added “I notified hurricane officials in Miami, and they are investigating this matter.”

MSU’s Starkville-based GeoResources Institute is directed by David R. Shaw. Bringing together faculty from 22 departments within six colleges or units of the university—including the Stennis office—GRI conducts and coordinates research and educational activities in geospatial technologies and resource management.

“Dr. Fitzpatrick is a tremendous resource for Mississippi and the nation on this important topic,” said Shaw. “His work has had a positive impact on human safety and development, and preservation of our economy. He complements GRI’s multi-disciplinary team of researchers and professionals.”

Typically, as a storm forms in or enters the Gulf of Mexico, GRI will provide forecast guidance on the storm’s track and intensity, and provide a “second opinion” to National Hurricane Center advisories.

Each hurricane season, Fitzpatrick performs external service as a forecaster to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. During an actual threat to Mississippi, he travels to Jackson to participate in Emergency Operation Center meetings, presentations and conference calls.

“Our biggest fear is that a hurricane forms near the coast, rapidly intensifies and makes landfall before evacuations can be completed,” said Fitzpatrick. “Another scenario is an unexpected track by a dangerous hurricane. In either situation, fatalities in the hundreds or even thousands are possible.

“Either situation is most dangerous in congested areas where highways can quickly become clogged,” he added. “In my book, I discuss how Hurricane Opal (which struck the Pensacola, Fla., area in 1995) almost caused such a scenario.”

NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For additional information or future contact, Dr. Pat Fitzpatrick may be reached at (228) 688-1157.