Supplemental Funds Support USGS Readiness for 2020 Hurricane Season

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Completed 2018 and 2019 Supplemental Appropriations activities are being used to prepare for the 2020 Hurricane season in Puerto Rico and the Southeastern United States. 

If storms track to these areas in 2020, equipment upgrades made with supplemental funding allows for real-time remote data gathering on flooding, landslides, and earthquakes.  This allows critical data collection for protection of life and property while adhering to local COVID-19 travel or distancing restrictions.

Stream gage network

In Puerto Rico, 83 repaired streamflow network gages damaged during Hurricane Maria are prepared to transmit data for the 2020 Hurricane Season. Updated stream gage discharge ratings are in use by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for flood warning. Stream conditions that were significantly changed by the record flooding from Hurricane Maria in 2017 have been updated, which allows for better levee and bridge infrastructure planning to improve resiliency on the island. In addition, the rain gage network in Puerto Rico, which provides a blanket of coverage over all major river basins, includes 33 new rain gages installed as part of USGS supplemental funding that are ready to be used by water managers for upcoming storm events. The storm response planning of Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are all counting on USGS precipitation data to aid in flood forecasting, flood mitigation, and post-storm disaster declaration determination.

Lidar data

High-resolution lidar was acquired for the entire island of Puerto Rico and large areas of Florida after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Existing lidar data in these regions served as an important pre-hurricane baseline dataset for measuring coastal change. Post-hurricane lidar surveys provide an effective means to assess topographic changes caused by hurricanes such as beach and dune erosion, landslides, and damages to buildings and other infrastructure. In addition, up-to-date elevation data are essential for supporting infrastructure repair and redevelopment, and as a foundational base layer for storm-surge and flood-risk prediction models used by local emergency planning officials, FEMA, and others. The lidar datasets are publicly available on The National Map website or are in progress.

For future hurricane seasons, lidar is currently being acquired in coastal areas impacted by Hurricane Michael in Florida and Georgia. The resulting data will be used to update vegetation and wildfire fuels mapping in forested areas that were damaged by Hurricane Michael in 2018 to better understand how hurricanes can impact wildfire risks. The lidar data will be published on The National Map website.

Landslides

Hurricane Maria triggered over 70,000 landslides when it passed over Puerto Rico in 2017. In response, a Landslide Guide for Residents of Puerto Rico was created through a USGS partnership with the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. The project team is currently working with risk communication stakeholders in Puerto Rico. Examples of prominent stakeholders include the National Weather Service, the Puerto Rico Planning Board, a trusted local weather forecaster, university partners, FEMA, a local science museum, the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, and others. The project aims to increase awareness of landslide hazards and to share preparedness strategies and other actions that can mitigate landslide risk if storms hit Puerto Rico in 2020.

Coastal Assessments  

With supplemental funding, USGS has updated models forecasting hurricane-induced coastal change hazards for the Southeastern United States. These models, based on lidar-derived dune and beach features, provide the most up-to-date assessment of the probabilities of coastal erosion and inundation for hurricanes that threaten US coastlines this season. Federal agencies, such as NOAA, USGS and the National Park Service (NPS), as well as local officials and emergency management offices, use the forecast as guidance to inform pre- and post-storm decisions related to safety and property damage.

The 2018 supplemental funding was also used to expand USGS models for storm-induced coastal change hazards to Puerto Rico. Because of different coastal terrain on the island, including rocky and/or coral-fronted coastlines, alternate modeling approaches have been developed. For example, USGS created a new method to delineate coastal cliffs from lidar data, necessary to accurately map the coastline of Puerto Rico and model future coastal hazards. To better understand coral reef fringed coasts, USGS has partnered with the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez to deploy a series of USGS instruments across the reefs off Rincon, Puerto Rico. Using these data, scientists compare and contrast coastal flooding models along coral reef-lined coasts to determine what parameters are needed, and at what computational level of effort, to accurately forecast coastal storm-induced flooding.  Early results show that storm damage to the reefs off Florida and Puerto Rico increased coastal flooding hazards in socioeconomic terms, and that coral reef restoration could reduce those hazards. These data may influence post-storm restoration strategies by FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following the 2020 hurricane season.

Additionally, through 2019 supplemental funding, USGS is sharing provisional remote sensing products with partners impacted by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. NPS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resource managers are already using the products to understand storm-induced threats to their resources and potentially to map invasive phragmites and archaeological resources such as shell middens.

Seismic Network

In preparation for possible impacts by the 2020 hurricane season, the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) is coordinating with Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) personnel to ensure continuity of operations in Puerto Rico.  In response to damage related to Hurricane Maria, the USGS and PRSN have upgraded and hardened 16 seismic stations across Puerto Rico. Upgrades include wind resistant civil works, robust and autonomous power systems, new sensor systems and satellite communications that enable independent data transmission to the USGS NEIC if telecommunication is lost on Puerto Rico.  As an example, nine of these stations were unaffected by power and internet outages and able to send data during the January 2020 earthquake sequence in southwestern Puerto Rico. The data from these upgraded systems are shared in real-time among PRSN, USGS NEIC and the NOAA tsunami warning system to assist in minimizing risks to human life and property.