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Preparing for Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy Resources


The current NOAA forecast for Hurricane Sandy's track. USGS is ready to deploy sensors along the Atlantic coast to measure storm tide height.

The current NOAA forecast for Hurricane Sandy’s track. USGS is ready to deploy sensors along the Atlantic coast to measure storm tide height.

The U.S. Geological Survey is keeping careful watch as Hurricane Sandy continues to track northeast along the east coast of Florida and the Atlantic coast.  Along with federal partners, the agency is taking actions to help minimize potential risks to lives and property.

Before, during and after any hurricane or tropical storm affecting the United States, the USGS is involved in measuring the height and intensity of the storm surge, and monitoring water levels of inland rivers and streams, providing critical information used to forecast floods.  Using state-of-the-art modeling, the USGS is also involved in forecasting coastal change caused by storm surge, assessing the likelihood of beach erosion, overwash or inundation.

USGS Streamgaging Network at the Ready

The USGS, in cooperation with local, state and federal agencies, operates long-term sensor networks on inland rivers and streams throughout the nation. These networks provide real-time data important to the National Weather Service, FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other USGS partners involved in issuing flood and evacuation warnings, coordinating emergency responses to communities, and operating flood-control reservoirs.

The USGS streamgaging network is primed and ready to go for Hurricane Sandy, no matter where the storm finally makes landfall.

Data from the USGS Streamgaging Network are routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk, and for many recreational activities. However, during a storm’s landfall, this network helps capture the depth and duration of storm-surge, as well as the forecasted time of its arrival and retreat.  Understanding storm surge allows for more accurate modeling and prediction capabilities and for improved structure designs and response for public safety. Inland streamgages also are used to track the rainfall and flooding caused by the remnants of the storm.

USGS crews are on alert.  Immediately after the worst of the storm has passed, USGS hydrologists will deploy to measure high-water marks at rivers and streams and to verify high river flows and peak stages. The crews will also calibrate and repair streamgages damaged by the storm to ensure they continued to transmit information in real time to users working to protect lives and property.

USGS Deploys Additional Storm Surge Sensors on the Atlantic Coast

Figure 2. USGS storm surge sensor deployed for Hurricane Isaac earlier this year. USGS installed more than 200 sensors in preparation for Isaac's landfall, to measure and record storm surge height and power.

Figure 2. USGS storm surge sensor deployed for Hurricane Isaac earlier this year. USGS installed more than 200 sensors in preparation for Isaac’s landfall, to measure and record storm surge height and power.

Storm surges are increases in ocean water levels generated at sea by extreme storms and can have devastating coastal impacts.  Prior to extreme weather events, the USGS may also deploy storm surge sensors at key coastal locations just a few days – or sometimes hours — before a Hurricane or Tropical Storm’s anticipated landfall. These storm surge sensors, housed in vented steel pipes a few inches wide and about a foot long, are installed on bridges, piers and other structures that have a good chance of surviving a storm surge during a hurricane. The number of sensors installed and their locations depend on the strength of the storm as well as what gages may already be in place.

In preparation for Hurricane Sandy, the USGS is ready to install additional sensors along the Atlantic coast, from Virginia to Massachusetts.  These sensors can record water level and barometric pressure every 30 seconds to document storm-surge crests – or waves of water – as they make landfall.

Storm tide sensors were previously deployed along the Atlantic coast in preparation for Hurricane Irene, in 2011. The data they collected were instrumental in understanding the effects of hurricanes and tropical storms on the East Coast.

Together, the USGS Streamgaging Network and the mobile USGS storm surge sensors provide critical data to the National Weather Service, FEMA and other USGS partners involved in issuing flood and evacuation warnings and in coordinating emergency responses to communities. In the event of a large tropical storm event, storm surge information will also help public officials assess storm damage, discern between wind and flood damage, and improve computer models used to forecast future floods.

Monitoring Coastal Change

Overwash, which occurs when waves and storm surge overtop dunes and transport sand landward, is a likely impact of hurricanes and tropical storms. The severity of erosion and overwash depends on the strength of the storm, beach elevation, and how direct a hit the coast takes.

While it’s difficult to tell where exactly the storm is headed or what its impacts may be, USGS scientists are using state-of-the art models to give emergency managers and local residents an accurate picture of what coastal changes are likely to occur if Hurricane Sandy makes landfall along the Atlantic coast.

Using the same system that modeled coastal impacts from Hurricane Isaac earlier this year, USGS scientists will post interactive maps using data on coastal features and models of hurricane waves and surge to predict the likely impact of Hurricane Sandy to the coast.

Tracking River Levels in Real Time

All information from USGS Nationwide Streamgaging network can be accessed at the USGS WaterWatch website. In a storm, this information can be particularly useful to local residents who want to know how increased rainfall from tropical storm Isaac will impact the rivers and stream in their areas. This site displays maps, graphs and tables that describe current and past streamflow conditions for the United States. The real-time streamflow data are generally updated on an hourly basis.

WaterAlert also allows users to receive updates about groundwater levels, water temperatures, rainfall and water quality at sites where USGS collects real-time water information.

For information on the latest storm track, listen to NOAA radio.  For information on preparing for the storm, go to Ready.gov or Listo.gov.

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Page Last Modified: February 2, 2011