Hurricane response crews from the U.S. Geological Survey are installing more than 120 storm-tide sensors at key locations along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Louisiana in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Isaac.
The storm-tide sensors, frequently called storm-surge sensors, will be secured to piers and poles in areas where the hurricane is expected to make landfall. The instruments being installed will record the precise time the storm-tide arrived, how ocean and inland water levels changed during the storm, the depth of the storm-tide throughout the event, and how long it took for the water to recede.
"While every hurricane brings the possibility for devastation, it also brings a learning opportunity by capturing valuable scientific data that improves our understanding of the pattern and timing of storm-driven coastal inundation," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "This vital information will help reduce loss of life and property now and in future events."
Storm-tides are increases in ocean water levels generated at sea by extreme storms and can have devastating coastal impacts. In locations where tidal forecasts are known, the sensors being installed can also help determine storm surge. For differences between storm-surge and tidal-surge, visit the National Hurricane Center's website.
This information will be used to assess storm damage, discern between wind and flood damage, and improve computer models used to forecast future coastal inundation.
In addition, rapid deployment gauges will be installed along critical roadways to provide real-time information to forecast floods and coordinate flood-response activities in the affected areas. The sensors augment a network of existing U.S. Geological Survey gauging stations already in place before the storm arrives.
Of the sensors deployed, 12 of those have real-time capability that will allow viewing of the storm-tide as Hurricane Isaac approaches and makes landfall. The real-time gauges have water level, precipitation and wind sensors that will transmit all data hourly. All gauge data can be found at the USGS Storm-Tide Mapper.
Providing information to support future forecasts could ultimately save lives during future storms. These sensors were deployed for the first time during Hurricane Rita in 2005. Before then, scientists had limited data available to study the effects of storm surge.
"Forecasters at the National Weather Service rely on USGS real-time and long-term data for input into its predictive models that are used to improve storm surge models and prepare storm-tide warnings," said Brian McCallum, assistant director of the USGS Georgia Water Science Center. "Floodplain managers, federal, state and local emergency preparedness officials, emergency responders, scientists and researchers all benefit from the storm-tide and associated flood data. It’s useful for flood damage prevention and public safety."
The USGS studies the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms to better understand potential impacts on coastal areas. Information provided through the sensor networks provides critical data for more accurate modeling and prediction capabilities and allows for improved structure designs and response for public safety.
The USGS also continuously monitors water levels and flows at thousands of the nation's streams on a real-time basis. The public can access this information for their area at the USGS Current Streamflow Conditions web page. Also, USGS WaterAlert allows users to receive a text or email from the USGS when waters are rising in rivers and streams near them.