Notre Dame professor had New Orleans on his mind, long before Katrina or the Sugar Bowl

Author: Dennis Brown


When the Notre Dame football team ventures to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, it will have in tow thousands of Fighting Irish faithful who will help pump new life into the hurricane-ravaged city – staying in hotels, eating at restaurants, enjoying the Big Easys unique culture, and participating in community service projects.

But there is one person at Notre Dame who has had New Orleans and its fate on his mind long before the Irish were invited to the Sugar Bowl, and even before Hurricane Katrina hit the city 16 months ago.

As a doctoral student at MIT in the 1980s, Notre Dame engineering professor Joannes Westerink and a fellow student developed the Advanced Circulation Model, or ADCIRC, an authoritative computer program that models hurricane storm surge. The model employs computer science, coastal oceanography, mathematics and engineering to determine water levels due to storm surge – the wall of water that is pushed onto land as a hurricane comes ashore, and, even more than strong winds, the leading cause of death and destruction in hurricanes.

Since developing the original program, Westerink and colleagues at other universities, as well as officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state of Louisiana have refined the model with a particular focus on what kind of damage hurricane storm surge would cause in New Orleans.

As a result, long before Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Westerink and other scientists had been painfully aware that if a large Category 3 storm were to hit New Orleans, the citys levees would not prevent widespread and catastrophic flooding.

He wishes he had been wrong, and now hes working on what can be done to protect the city from future Katrinas.

As co-chair of an Army Corps task force, Westerink led an eight-month evaluation of how the New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Protection System performed during Katrina. The groups conclusion was that an effective hurricane protection system could have been built and would have substantially alleviated the flooding that inundated about 80 percent of the New Orleans area. The task forces recommendations will be used to develop a more effective levee protection system for the future.

Contact: Joannes Westerink, professor of civil engineering and geological sciences, 574-631-6475, or 574-233-1239, or

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