Scientists Prepare for Hurricane Season with New Tools and Data that Advance Forecasting of Storm Impacts

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As hurricane season officially begins, scientists with the USGS National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards (NACCH) project are ready to provide scientific information, data, and tools to guide hurricane response and recovery efforts for U.S. shorelines. 
 

This article is part of the May 2017 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.

As hurricane season officially begins, scientists with the USGS National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards (NACCH) project are ready to provide scientific information, data, and tools to guide hurricane response and recovery efforts for U.S. shorelines.

Since 2011, NACCH researchers have provided forecasts of coastal erosion based on lidar-derived beach morphology and modeled storm waves and water levels. Scenario-based forecasts are updated every year using simulated hurricane waves and surge and the most recent beach morphology from the USGS. These scenarios can be used to plan for potential future storm impacts. During a landfalling storm, storm-specific probabilities of coastal change are made using real-time waves and surge forecasts from NOAA. Both scenario-based and real-time forecasts of coastal erosion are available in the Coastal Change Hazards Portal and are updated as conditions change.

Screenshot of coastal-change forecast for Hurricane Matthew on 10/7/16: damage is most likely in red areas

Coastal-change forecast for Hurricane Matthew on October 7, 2016. Red areas indicate a high probability of storm-induced coastal change. Image credit: USGS.

In collaboration with the National Weather Service (NWS), the NACCH project has also developed an operational total water level and coastal change forecast viewer. This viewer is updated several times a day with real-time water levels from the NWS Nearshore Wave Prediction System and is currently available for five pilot locations along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts. By the end of the 2017 hurricane season, the model will cover 2,600 kilometers (1,616 miles) of coastline in select areas from Florida through Maine, and will ultimately be available for the entire U.S. coastline. The USGS viewer includes predictions of the timing and magnitude of water levels at the shoreline and potential impacts to coastal dunes. These new capabilities are enhancing the Nation’s overall approach to storm-impact forecasting. NOAA will be incorporating both the water-level and coastal-erosion probability forecasts into their guidance for meteorologists at select NWS Weather Forecasting Offices.

Screenshot of the operational total water level and coastal change forecast viewer

The operational total water level and coastal change forecast viewer shows the timing and elevation of water levels along with dune crest and toe height for Juno Beach, Florida, during the approach of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  Image credit: Kara Doran, USGS. 

Photo and graph show predicted elevated water levels on Madeira Beach, FL, from Hurricane Matthew

Elevated water levels on Madeira Beach, Florida, as predicted by the operational total water level and coastal change forecast viewer (top) and observed from the video camera (bottom) on January 22, 2017. Photo credit: USGS.

The data used to support these analyses are available for download on the Coastal Change Hazards Portal and via USGS data releases. Lidar-based beach morphology—the dune crest, dune toe, shoreline, and beach slope—are provided for every 10 meters (32.8 feet) alongshore. The mean (tide, surge) and extreme (tide, surge, runup) storm-induced water levels, which estimate how high water is expected to be at the shoreline associated with an impending storm, are also provided.

The NACCH project is constantly working to improve forecasts of coastal change through observations and research. A newly installed video camera at Madeira Beach, Florida, collects observations of the coast that can be used to monitor a range of processes, such as beach and dune erosion during extreme storm events. These observations are used to evaluate models for predicting water levels at the shoreline driven by surge and waves, and to help improve our understanding of coastal processes during storms when traditional surveys are too dangerous.

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, are another new tool for NACCH project scientists to obtain rapid response observations of the coast. Equipped with a small digital camera, a UAS can be deployed to collect aerial imagery before and after storm events. With a flight time of 10-15 minutes, the UAS can capture images from a stationary position to create standard image products for extracting water levels, shoreline position, and bathymetry. Additionally, the UAS can fly along the coast capturing multiple snapshot images, from which elevation data can be extracted using a new technique termed Structure-from-Motion (SfM).

Images of Matanzas, Florida, from before and after Hurricane Matthew, and DEM showing the associated change

Orthomosaic images of Matanzas, Florida, from (a) before and (b) after Hurricane Matthew, and (c) a digital elevation model (DEM) showing the associated topographic change. Note, these results were produced by applying Structure-from-Motion (SfM) to NOAA oblique photographs, but similar results can be obtained using UAS aerial imagery. Image credit: Chris Sherwood, USGS.

Closeup photo of a drone on cracked pavement

The 3DR Solo with GoPro Hero4 camera and gimbal. Coming to a beach near you soon. Photo credit: Shawn Harrison, USGS.

 

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Date published: May 31, 2017

Sound Waves Newsletter - May 2017

Scientists prepare for hurricane season with new tools and data, southern California could lose up to two-thirds of its beaches by 2100, real-time public engagement during deep-water remotely operated vehicle dives, PCMSC women’s panel discuss their careers to inspire girls, Sam Johnson is keynote speaker at geological conference in South Africa, and more in this May 2017 issue of Sound Waves...