Windows at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine have been covered with plywood in preparation for Hurricane Dorian.

Heather Krumholtz/Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience

As Hurricane Dorian bears down, researchers get ready

For the fourth consecutive year, scientists in Florida are preparing for a major hurricane, laying down sandbags and boarding up windows at research facilities along the state’s Atlantic coast. The Bahamas are also bracing for what the U.S. National Weather Service says could be “life-threatening storm surge and devastating hurricane force winds,” and at least one researcher expects damage to a long-term field experiment being conducted there. Facilities in North and South Carolina could face hurricane-related trouble next week.

Weather forecasters expect Hurricane Dorian, as of Saturday a Category-4 storm with wind speeds of up to 233 kilometers per hour, to wallop the northern Bahamas sometime Sunday with winds of up to 281 kilometers per hour. The storm is then expected to continue to move west and north toward the Florida coast, although its exact track is still uncertain. It could also bring high winds, rainfall, and coastal flooding to the Carolinas.

“#Hurricane prep is in effect” at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, staff tweeted yesterday, sharing pictures of workers sealing windows with plywood and equipment that had been lifted off floors to avoid flooding. “#boarditup #raisethoseincubators #emptythosebottomshelves #Dorian.”

“Oh yeah we are ready!! All windows boarded up and 200 sandbags,” Mark Martindale, a biologist and director of the lab, told ScienceInsider. “We learned from Hurricane Matthew a couple of years ago,” he says, but Dorian “could be bad” because it will strike just as the Florida coast is experiencing unusually high seasonal King Tides. Dorian’s winds are expected to push a wall of water into Florida estuaries, causing coastal flooding.

Staff at the Whitney lab are also “making arrangements for our animals … so they are safe,” including turtles in its sea turtle hospital, says Heather Krumholtz, the lab’s communications coordinator. And they are “removing our fish sensors that study fish migration … in advance of the storm,” as well as submerged instruments that that collect an array of environmental data.

On Abaco and Grand Bahama islands in the northern Bahamas, which are major tourist destinations, several small research stations are within the expected path of the storm. Independent ecologist Craig Layman, who is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and has been conducting research on Abaco for the past dozen years, is preparing for the worst for one long-term experiment. The 8-year-old project, led by ecologist Jacob Allgeier of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, uses nutrient enrichment and artificial reefs to study fish productivity in seagrass beds, Layman wrote in an email. The reefs are constructed from cinder blocks glued together with epoxy, but, “with winds that strong, passing right over the experimental site,” the reefs are “likely to damaged severely.”

That’s a shame, he says, because the experiment is, to his knowledge, “the longest-running … nutrient enrichment experiment in a tropical seagrass ecosystem. … [The reefs] can be reconstructed, but surely will incur damage.”

Yesterday, Hubert Minnis, prime minister of the Bahamas, ordered the evacuation of small islands around Abaco, and urged residents of Grand Bahama to move away from coastlines “to the interior of the island. … Those who refuse to evacuate place themselves in great danger.”

At the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, based on Virginia Key in Florida, classes have been canceled through Tuesday, according to university officials. But researchers there are continuing to update its hurricane portal, which provides an array of information. It is curated by atmospheric scientist Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the school.

Hurricane researchers say that “if Dorian makes landfall in Florida, it would be the fourth hurricane to do so since 2016, following Hermine (2016), Irma (2017) and Michael (2018),” The Washington Post reports. And “Assuming #HurricaneDorian makes landfall in Florida, this will be the 4th consecutive year with a Florida #hurricane landfall — the most consecutive years with a Florida landfall since they were hit by hurricanes in a whopping 7 consecutive years from 1944-1950,” tweeted Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher affiliated with Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Is your research being affected by Hurricane Dorian—or is it providing an opportunity? Let ScienceInsider know by emailing insider@aaas.org.

*Clarification, 31 August, 11:38 a.m.: The name of the researcher who leads the Abaco experiment has been clarified, as has the level of damage expected.

*Correction, 31 August, 11:38 a.m.: Craig Layman is no longer at North Carolina State University. The story has been corrected.