Stennis-based weather forecasting company is blown away by response to its unique capability

Stennis-based weather forecasting company is blown away

by response to its unique capability

A Stennis Space Center-based company is doing very good business from very bad weather.  WorldWinds, Inc., provides accurate, high-resolution weather forecasts customized for specific applications, including storm surge models and time series plots.

Elizabeth Valenti, WorldWinds owner and CEO, said that even before Hurricane Katrina changed the shape of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the company’s business was picking up. Valenti started the company in May 2000 and is located in facilities operated by the Mississippi Enterprise for Technology (MsET) at Stennis.  Since 1994, MsET has provided office space and business services to large and small technology-based companies, particularly those developing geospatial technologies. WorldWinds has steadily grown its business over the years, but the real value of their services, according to Valenti, are being proven since Hurricane Katrina.

During a 2003 NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project, WorldWinds bought a copy of a license of the ADCIRC, a hydrology model that simulates storm surge.  The company went to great lengths to learn to use the model and purchased a LINUX cluster, which is essentially a mini supercomputer, to run the model.  This one step is proving to put WorldWinds in the proverbial cat-bird seat.  “Right now, we are one of only a small handful of others that run ADCIRC in house and commercially,” she said.  “Nobody else in this area does what we do.”

Partially because of this capability, WorldWinds secured two contracts from URS, a civil engineering firm out of Baton Rouge, La.  On the Maurepas Project, URS partners with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to study an area southwest of Lake Maurepas near New Orleans, La., as part of Louisiana’s coastal restoration.  DNR and the Corps of Engineers are considering construction of a diversion between the Mississippi River and the surrounding swamp in the study area to determine how the land will be built up.  WorldWinds is simulating various water flow scenarios for the project using its ADCIRC capability.  As a kudo to WorldWinds, the developers of the ADCIRC model actually passed when approached by DNR to do the work and recommended WorldWinds.

Having proven themselves, DNR hired WorldWinds to create storm surge simulations for the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which is a shipping channel trenched through St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.  “This outlet has been the subject of a lot controversy in the Parish, because it has caused a tremendous amount of erosion,” Valenti said.

Once Hurricane Katrina hit, the Outlet area has been under much speculation in its contribution to St. Bernard and New Orleans levee breaks and flooding.  “The Parish has blamed the Outlet as a major contributor to the flooding,” Valenti said.  “But our models show that the Outlet really had very little impact.  The water actually came up over the marsh land to breach the levees.”

WorldWinds has provided this information to the St. Bernard Parish Council. “At first they were surprised. But as we showed them the information, they became receptive. Their question was, ‘Well, what’s our next step?’” Valenti said.  WorldWinds suggested that more in-depth studies need to be done concerning coastal erosion and salinity intrusion into the local marsh.

While WorldWinds’ ADCIRC in-house capabilities are attracting business for the company, they might prove invaluable to victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The company is contracted by AccuWeather to generate wind-speed and flood-level time series plots for areas on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Louisiana.  AccuWeather is the largest weather product provider in the United States.  Its in-depth forensics department provides for-hire expert witnesses and legal testimony for people who are taking insurance companies to court.

AccuWeather provided latitude and longitude positions for 50 specific houses in Mississippi and Louisiana.  The time-series plots developed by WorldWinds show wind speed and water levels on an hour-by-hour basis for specific areas.  For example, in Bay St. Louis, MS, the WorldWinds plots indicate the city was ravaged by 120+ mph winds for 4 ½ – 5 hours before water levels reached their highest — winds strong and long enough to do significant structural damage.  The company is using the WorldWinds time-series plots as part of its legal testimonies.  WorldWinds personnel have also attended mediation with insurance companies and provided this information.

WorldWinds will provide this information for Hurricane Katrina victims free of charge.  For more information on the time-series plots, contact evalenti@worldwindsinc.com.

Valenti anticipates work with additional Federal agencies involved in hurricane recovery efforts.

“My family lost 9 houses to Katrina, so this work is very personal to me,” Valenti said. “I hope we can help many other people in the community.”

For more information on WorldWinds, contact Elizabeth Valenti at evalenti@worldwindsinc.com.  For more information on MsET, call 1-800-448-8812 or visit www.mset.org.

WorldWinds produced time-series plots for 50 specific residences along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Louisiana. In Bay St. Louis, for example, the plot shows that winds reached speeds of 120+ m.p.h. for almost 5 hours before water levels reached their highest — long enough to do significant structural damage. This type of information is available from WorldWinds to residents affected by Hurricane Katrina.

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