An LSU Student built a Gulf Hurricane Forecast. He predicts a busy season.

June 11, 2024

A man in a blue suit stands next to a conference poster

An unusually strong snowstorm sparked Russell's childhood interest in weather. He came to LSU to study Coastal Meteorology.

BATON ROUGE - “How can we make something different?”

That was the question Coastal Environmental Science student Jonathan Russell and his College of the Coast & Environment faculty mentor, Paul Miller, asked when examining the annual hurricane forecasts put out by NOAA and other entities.

Russell was beginning an internship at Velocity Risk, a catastrophic risk insurance underwriting company.

“You have a lot of models present right now that are very similar to each other,” Russell said. The team wanted to put together a forecast with a more direct local impact. “We wanted to do something that would distinguish Velocity, and LSU, from the rest of the pack.”

The result: the LSU-Velocity Risk Gulf of Mexico Hurricane Outlook, a Gulf specific hurricane forecast, now in its second year. The team just released its 2024 forecast, which calls for an active season, with 12 storms in the Gulf.

See Russell discuss his research

A Series of Firsts

Henry Lipscomb, Russell’s supervisor at Velocity Risk, said the LSU student was a natural fit for the company, whose goal it is to further the understanding of tropical cyclone development.

“From our first interaction, it was apparent that Jonathan was a remarkable individual,” Lipscomb said. “The interview team was unanimously blown away by the brilliance and maturity he demonstrated as a freshman in college. Having spent a summer working with Jonathan, my beliefs have only been reinforced. He is a special young man destined for a bright future.”

Last summer, the 2023 forecast represented a series of firsts.

The Outlook is the first Gulf of Mexico specific forecast. For Russell, who had just completed his freshman year when Miller, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences, tapped him to apply for the internship, it was the first time he’d used the programming language Python. It was also the first time he’d worked with machine learning, which he used to run the models necessary to create the forecast.

“Last summer was definitely a learning curve. The first three months we just had to figure things out,” Russell recalled.

It all culminated with another first – Russell’s first visit to the company, when he presented his research to the company’s CEO and board. “I think I blurred out a little bit,” he said of his presentation. “But Paul and Henry [Lipscomb] said I did well.”

And indeed, the company invited him back to create this year to create the 2024 forecast.

The 2024 Outlook

This year’s Outlook was built using fifteen different data points and running hundreds of models.  Russell noted time saved using machine learning was critical. “We tried hundreds of different variables, trying to figure out what gave the most accurate predictions when we were testing it,” he said. “It would have taken years on end to go through each of those models.”

Miller said that prediction of twelve storms is high, but in line with Atlantic forecasts released by NOAA and other entities. “It is detecting signals that rival the historically busy 2005 and 2020 hurricane seasons,” he said.

Russell noted that the conditions which kept last year’s hurricane season quiet have changed. “There’s no drought over Southeast Louisiana, and that was a big driver in it not being as active of a season. There’s not Saharan Dust, and ocean temperatures are extremely high.”

Now that he has completed the forecast, Russell will spend six weeks of the summer at the Velocity Risk headquarters in Nashville. He will learn more about the company’s work, and continue to check in with Miller every day to discuss any meteorological questions that may.

Russell enters his third year at Coastal Meteorology in the fall. A weather enthusiast since childhood, he is on the path to his dream career – becoming a meteorologist.


See Russell discuss his research