Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Elizabeth Carter


Failure prediction;Hurricanes;Pipeline failures

Subject Categories

Civil and Environmental Engineering | Engineering | Environmental Engineering


Over 30,000 hazardous material pipeline failures in the United States have been documented by the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) since 1970. Hazardous pipeline failures, particularly failures associated with synoptic-scale extreme weather events like tropical cyclones, cause massive damage to the social, environmental, and economic landscapes. Yet even though tropical storms are broadly recognized as important drivers of pipeline failures, limited research has been conducted associating tropical storm characteristics with the likelihood of pipeline failure. This is largely due to limitations in historical records of pipeline failures, which are based on operator-generated incidence reports. As a substantial fraction of the hazardous material pipeline infrastructure is located in tropical storm/hurricane-prone regions, understanding how tropical cyclone (TC) characteristics impact pipelines is of critical importance, both now and as the intensity and frequency of tropical storms/hurricanes increase due to climate change. This analysis focuses on quantifying the relationship between tropical storm/hurricane characteristics and pipeline failure frequency. To accomplish this, PHMSA Failure Dataset and NOAA HURDAT2 Dataset are associated based on spatiotemporal concomitance to estimate the frequency of failure of pipelines in the aftermath of a tropical storm/hurricane. Over 70% of reported pipeline failures in TC active regions occur within the first year of TC exposure, and 17% occur within two months (60 days) of TC exposure. Since 1975, the annual frequency of pipeline failures within 60 days of TC exposure has more than doubled. The frequency of hazardous pipeline failures directly relates to the intensity (minimum pressure/maximum windspeed) of the tropical cyclone. Tropical storm/hurricane intensity explains 33% of inter-system variability in pipeline failure. Assuming linear continuations of strong increasing trends in mean tropical cyclone intensity, associations between storm strength and tropical cyclone intensity suggest that we may see an 5% increase in the frequency of annual hazardous pipeline failures in TC track regions per year by 2050. The results of this study can guide inspection and monitoring practices and create more responsive emergency response plans to reduce the potential contamination after a failure occurs. Limitations to the current PHMSA failure reporting data collection practices for pipeline failure cause attribution are discussed.


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