What is the role of the USGS in responding to hurricanes?

The USGS creates detailed maps of our Nation’s shorelines, dunes, and coastal cliffs, and studies how storm processes impact our coastlines. This information is used to predict and map coastal vulnerability to changes caused by major storms, long-term shoreline erosion, sea-level rise, and sea cliff erosion.

One example is the USGS Coastal Change Forecast model, which uses storm surge predictions, wave forecast models, beach slope, and dune height to predict how high waves and surge will move up a beach during a hurricane, and whether the protective dunes will be overtopped. This helps emergency managers identify where serious problems are likely to occur during a storm.

The USGS also often deploys a network of storm-tide sensors at key locations when a hurricane is approaching the coast. The information they collect helps public officials assess storm damage, discern between wind and flood damage, and improve computer models used to forecast future floods.

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What is the difference between a tsunami and a tidal wave?

Although both are sea waves, a tsunami and a tidal wave are two different and unrelated phenomena. A tidal wave is a shallow water wave caused by the gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth ("tidal wave" was used in earlier times to describe what we now call a tsunami.) A tsunami is an ocean wave triggered by large earthquakes...

What are Tsunamis?

Tsunamis are ocean waves triggered by: Large earthquakes that occur near or under the ocean Volcanic eruptions Submarine landslides Onshore landslides in which large volumes of debris fall into the water Scientists do not use the term "tidal wave" because these waves are not caused by tides. Tsunami waves are unlike typical ocean waves generated...

Could a large tsunami happen in the United States?

Large tsunamis have occurred in the United States and will undoubtedly occur again. Significant earthquakes around the Pacific rim have generated tsunamis that struck Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. west coast. One of the largest and most devastating tsunamis that Hawaii has experienced was in 1946 from an earthquake along the Aleutian subduction...

Why is elevation data so important to forecasting hurricane impact?

The fundamental lesson of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 (and prior catastrophic storms and hurricanes), was that storm vulnerability is first and foremost a consequence of elevation. The height at which infrastructure, resources, and communities sit in relation to average tides and water levels, storm waves, surge, and flood waters determines their...

Where can I find flood maps?

FEMA is the official public source for flood maps for insurance purposes: FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center FEMA’s Flood Hazard Map FAQs NOAA is responsible for producing flood forecast maps that combine precipitation data with USGS streamflow data: National Flood Forecasts Interactive Flood Information Map Coastal Inundation Dashboard : Real-time...

How are floods predicted?

Flood predictions require several types of data: The amount of rainfall occurring on a real-time basis. The rate of change in river stage on a real-time basis, which can help indicate the severity and immediacy of the threat. Knowledge about the type of storm producing the moisture, such as duration, intensity and areal extent, which can be...

What are the two types of floods?

There are two basic types of floods: flash floods and the more widespread river floods. Flash floods generally cause greater loss of life and river floods generally cause greater loss of property. A flash flood occurs when runoff from excessive rainfall causes a rapid rise in the water height (stage) of a stream or normally-dry channel. Flash...
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Date published: August 29, 2019

Throughout Hurricane Season, USGS Science is There Before, During and After the Storm

When a major storm threatens to make landfall in the United States or its territories, the USGS provides comprehensive scientific capabilities and information that decision makers, emergency responders and communities can use to help them prepare, cope and recover from a storm.

Date published: December 13, 2017

Eyes on the Coast—Video Cameras Help Forecast Coastal Change

USGS scientists have installed video cameras pointed at beaches on the coasts of western Florida and central California. They’re analyzing the videos to measure features of the beach and ocean so they can improve coastal-change forecasts.

Date published: October 5, 2017

Scientists Ground Truth What Influences Hurricanes

Scientists looked back 10 to 13 thousand years to gain real-world insight into the environmental factors that influence hurricanes near Florida and, by extension, the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Date published: August 30, 2017

Science to Weather the Storm

To learn more about USGS’ role providing science to decision makers before, during and after Hurricane Harvey, visit the USGS Hurricane Harvey page.

Date published: May 18, 2017

In Next Decades, Frequency of Coastal Flooding Will Double Globally

The frequency and severity of coastal flooding throughout the world will increase rapidly and eventually double in frequency over the coming decades even with only moderate amounts of sea level rise, according to a new study released today in “Scientific Reports.”

Date published: January 11, 2017

Preparing for the Storm: Predicting Where Our Coasts Are at Risk

Living in the Outer Banks means living with the power of the sea. Jutting out from North Carolina’s coast into the Atlantic Ocean, this series of sandy barrier islands is particularly vulnerable to damage from major storms. In April 2016, another nor’easter was set to strike, but this time, Dare County officials were approached by their local weather forecaster with a new kind of prediction....

Date published: March 14, 2016

EarthWord – Storm Tide

Storm tides is the combination of storm surge, which is water that has been pushed by a storm, with the regularly occurring tides.

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As US models predicted Hurricane Joaquin washed out a road at Kitty Hawk, NC in 2015.
June 1, 2016

Hurricane erodes N.C. road

As US models predicted Hurricane Joaquin washed out a road at Kitty Hawk, NC in 2015.

Hurricane Ike storm surge: Sept. 2008
April 27, 2016

Hurricane Ike storm surge: Sept. 2008

Hurricane Ike storm surge: Sept. 2008 (Photo: NOAA)

 Beach erosion at Rodanthe, NC, along the coast on August 30, 2011, three days after landfall of Hurricane Irene
April 14, 2016

Beach erosion, North Carolina, 2011, caused by Hurricane Irene.

Oblique aerial photograph near Rodanthe, NC, along the coast on August 30, 2011, three days after landfall of Hurricane Irene. A breach was carved through the barrier island, severing NC Highway 12. The storm surge was approximately 2 m high on the sound-side and was less on the ocean-side. Flow from the sound to the ocean may have played a role in cutting

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Hurricane Sandy
April 11, 2016

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy

homes damaged by hurricane Sandy on Fire Island, New York
April 11, 2016

Many ocean-front homes on Fire Island, New York, were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.

Many ocean-front homes on Fire Island, New York, were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.

Figure 2. Historical major hurricanes ≥ Category 3. (Source: NOAA National Hurricane Center)
April 7, 2016

Figure 2. Historical major hurricanes ≥ Category 3. (Source: NOAA National Hurricane Center)

Figure 2. Historical major hurricanes ≥ Category 3. (Source: NOAA National Hurricane Center)

Image: Surveying High-Water Marks after Hurricane Sandy
January 18, 2013

Surveying High-Water Marks after Hurricane Sandy

USGS hydrologic technician Amy Simonson surveying a high-water mark on Liberty Island, New York.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Surveying High-Water Marks after Hurricane Sandy
January 18, 2013

Surveying High-Water Marks after Hurricane Sandy

USGS hydrologic technician Amy Simonson surveying a high-water mark on Liberty Island, New York.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
USGS
September 5, 2011

Responding to Hurricanes, Floods and Droughts in North Carolina

North Carolina, like many years before, is responding to flooding in the East and drought in the West. Holly Weyers, USGS North Carolina Water Science Center Director, discusses these extreme events.