Remembering Tropical Storm Irene in New England

Tropical Storm Irene 2011 Flood Geonarrative

Tropical Storm Irene 2011 Flood Geonarrative

The "Tropical Storm Irene 2011 Flood" geonarrative examines the impact of Tropical Storm Irene and the role of USGS monitoring and science in identifying, understanding, and mitigating flood risks.

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Explore the #21DaysofIrene on Facebook

Explore the #21DaysofIrene on Facebook

For many New Englanders, August of 2011 may not seem that memorable. For others, it's remembered as the month that Tropical Storm Irene permanently changed the landscape in their hometown. Follow us on Facebook through the #21DaysofIrene.

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Science Center Objects

On August 28, 2011 Tropical Storm Irene made landfall in New England, leading to coastal storm surge, significant riverine flooding, sediment transport to Long Island Sound, and major infrastructure damage and destruction. Ten years later, the USGS New England Water Science Center looks back at Irene, the data collected by our Center during the event, the response by our employees before, during and after the event, and how the event changed the way we do business.

Storm track of Irene and the storm's classification as it traveled northward

This image shows the track of Irene and the storm's classification as it traveled northward. (Public domain.)

On August 28, 2011 Tropical Storm Irene reached the coast of New England and traversed through western Connecticut and Massachusetts and then along the New Hampshire/Vermont border and eventually exited New England through northern Maine. Irene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm prior to reaching New England as winds subsided to approximately 55 mph, and again downgraded to an extratropical storm as winds dropped to near 45 mph. Irene caused coastal damage in western Connecticut due to the storm surge associated with the high winds and significant damage to roadways, bridges, and other infrastructure due to the tremendous amounts of rainfall during the storm. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) New England Water Science Center responded to the storm surge and severe flooding caused by Irene before, during, and after the storm by monitoring tidal storm surge and collecting measurements of river stage and discharge. In some cases, there was record-breaking river stage elevations and associated discharge, especially in Vermont and western New Hampshire.

Leading up to the 10-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene the New England Water Science Center posted numerous photographs and other content to highlight the historical significance of the storm and the response by the USGS New England Water Science Center. Additionally, we posted content on our Facebook page using the hashtag #21DaysofIrene.

We focus on the preparation for the storm and some of the coastal and riverine flooding caused by the storm. Preparation was primarily deploying storm surge sensors along New England’s coastline and getting teams ready to go into the field to get discharge measurements of flooding rivers throughout the most impacted areas of New England.

We also feature continued USGS New England Water Science Center response during and after the storm, as well as lessons learned and how USGS has changed their way of responding to this type of storm event.

Parking lot after Tropical Storm Irene showing rocks in the forefront with the remaining paved section in the background

This photo taken on August 30, 2011 shows what used to be the parking lot where we parked our field vehicle during a previous deployment. The rocks in the forefront used to be part of the paved parking lot that was largely destroyed during Irene. (Credit: Jonathan Morrison, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)


Telephone pole fell across roadway due to flooding from Irene

This photograph of the White River near West Hartford, Vermont (USGS station ID 01144000, gage on the left) was taken on August 29, 2011 and is looking upstream towards the USGS gage. The White River flooded Route 14 in the photo and caused significant damage and erosion along the roadway and in the town. The monitoring equipment in the gage was destroyed by floodwaters that overtopped the equipment inside the gage. (Credit: Richard Kiah, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

Uprooted tree in the Green River lodged under Hurlburt Road bridge from Irene

The impacts of Tropical Storm Irene lingered on long after the storm. This photo shows the Green River in Great Barrington, Massachusetts (USGS station ID 01198000) and was taken on May 14, 2012, almost a year after Irene. This tree was lodged under the Hurlburt Rd. bridge during Irene and was still lodged under the bridge after the storm. It was removed by the State of Massachusetts later that year. The tree caused the river to change course and it has been eroding the bank on the opposite side ever since; the property owner lost a fence due to the erosion. (Credit: Timothy Sargent, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)


Debris line in the grass on the side of a roadway where the river reached its peak

A debris line was left on the ground where the river reached its peak at USGS station ID 010642505 Saco River at Bartlett, New Hampshire. This is a type of High-Water Mark that was flagged for an indirect measurement of discharge. Direct measurements using a flow meter cannot be used during this type of flood event. In this case, it was a slope-area measurement that resulted in 29,100 cubic feet per second of flow, or approximately 2,182,250 gallons of water per second flowing down the channel and well over bank. (Credit: Richard Kiah, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

High-Water Mark found at undesirable location after Tropical Storm Irene

A High-Water Mark (HWM) at USGS station ID 01150900 Ottauquechee River at West Bridgewater, Vermont was observed at an undesirable location. It was inside the gage house and above the equipment, which was destroyed! Note the line of debris, known as a seed line, in between the two shelves, which was the peak of the river during Irene. The HWM was used to compute an indirect measurement of discharge. In this case, a contracted-opening measurement (flow through a bridge or other structure) resulted in 9,070 cubic feet per second of flow, or approximately 68,025 gallons of water passing in one second. (Credit: Richard Kiah, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)


Graph showing annual peak streamflow at long-term gage station ID 04288000

This graph comes from the USGS National Water Information System website, and shows the peak at the long-term streamflow gage station ID 04288000 – Mad River near Moretown, Vermont - 92 years of record. (Public domain.)