Double Trouble: USGS Responds to Hurricane Joaquin and Nor’easter

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The East Coast of the United States is dealing with dual storm systems—Hurricane Joaquin and a nor’easter moving through the Carolinas. Both storm systems are interacting with each other, as well as individually bringing their own sets of challenges. USGS is deploying crews throughout the affected region, from South Carolina to Connecticut, to respond to the two storms.

A screenshot showing the current forecast for coastal change hazards associated with Hurricane Joaquin.
A screenshot showing the current forecast for coastal change hazards associated with Hurricane Joaquin.

The East Coast of the United States is dealing with dual storm systems—Hurricane Joaquin and a nor’easter moving through the Carolinas. Both storm systems are interacting with each other, as well as individually bringing their own sets of challenges. USGS is deploying crews throughout the affected region, from South Carolina to Connecticut, to respond to the two storms.

Hurricane Joaquin

To be clear, the National Hurricane Center is issuing up-to-date forecasts of Hurricane Joaquin’s projected path, and, as of this writing, there is low likelihood of Joaquin making landfall in the United States. No USGS deployment location is meant to indicate that the hurricane will make landfall there.

Instead, USGS is taking the opportunity to have a live test of several relatively new systems dealing with water, hazards, and environmental health.

Networking for the Storm

One of the primary systems USGS is testing is the USGS SWaTH Network. This operation builds on the historic strengths of USGS water science and unites all of the various USGS gauges and sensors into a single, robust system. All real-time data and gauge locations will be added to this map for Hurricane Joaquin.

A screenshot of the data viewer where the locations for all USGS gauges and instruments deployed for these storms can be seen.
A screenshot of the data viewer where the locations for all USGS gauges and instruments deployed for these storms can be seen.

Born from the lessons of Hurricane Sandy, the USGS SWaTH Network stretches from the coasts of North Carolina to Maine, as well as the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound. It consists of 71 existing and new flood-hardened, real-time telemetered tide gauges, 61 Rapid Deployment Gauges, and up to 555 temporary Storm-tide Sensors.

Keeping SCoRR

In addition to testing the USGS SWaTH Network, USGS is also testing a brand new, complementary strategy called USGS SCoRR. This approach will allow scientists to look at the impacts of storms on the spread of contaminants in sediments.

U.S. Geological Survey scientists preparing sediment quality sampling supplies for deployment in advance of Hurricane Joaquin. C
U.S. Geological Survey scientists preparing sediment quality sampling supplies for deployment in advance of Hurricane Joaquin. Credit: Shawn Fisher, USGS.

One of the lessons from both Hurricane Sandy and Katrina is that storm-tide, flooding, and other impacts from coastal storms can play a significant role in depositing contaminants on the bottom of water bodies such as streams and estuaries, or transporting pre-existing contaminants in sediments from place to place. That, in turn, can have negative effects on the health and resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems already reeling from the direct impacts of the storm itself.

The USGS SCoRR team will collect sediment samples in tandem with several USGS SWaTH Network sites before Hurricane Joaquin arrives to serve as a baseline. Then, once the Joaquin passes by, USGS will go back to those same sites to collect new sediment samples to see what, if any, effects have occurred. These samples will then be analyzed for a broad suite of chemical and microbial contaminants.

Forecasting the Surge

Last but not least, USGS has issued forecasts of coastal impacts from Hurricane Joaquin through the newly expanded USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal. Projections of coastal erosion, storm surge overtopping dunes, and flooding from Joaquin can be found there.

Image: Nags Head in the Outer Banks
USGS coastal scientists visit Nags Head in the Outer Banks to examine coastal erosion impacts that occurred from Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Also evolving from Hurricane Sandy, USGS new foray into forecasting coastal changes will provide the full assessment of probabilities of coastal change, along with information on dune elevations and how high water levels may reach during a storm. All of this data is integrated with information from NOAA.

The additional information and tools available on the portal will support emergency managers, coastal planners and community leaders, who can combine the information found on the portal with other data to identify where hazards pose the greatest risks to their communities and take action before impacts of a storm occur.

Nor’easter in the Southeast

Also on the move this weekend is a nor’easter bringing significant amounts of rain to North and South Carolina. Many areas are at high risk for flooding, and flash flood warnings have been issued throughout the areas. USGS has mobilized dozens of scientists and technicians to respond to this storm system, as well as landslide potential that may result from the precipitation.

USGS scientist Carlos Rodriguez, deploying a sensor at Newmarket Creek at Mercury Boulevard in Hampton, VA. Credit: USGS
USGS scientist Carlos Rodriguez, deploying a sensor at Newmarket Creek at Mercury Boulevard in Hampton, VA. Credit: USGS

When It Rains, It Pours

USGS regularly responds to inland flooding events, and this storm is no exception. Up-to-date, real-time information from USGS streamgages can be found on the USGS Floods page.

USGS has deployed crews throughout North Carolina and South Carolina to install rapid deployment gauges and to take streamflow measurements to verify the data that the USGS Streamgage Network is sending to federal, state and local agencies, as well as to the public.

The Slippery Slope

USGS is also monitoring landslide hazards in the area affected by the storm, assisting the North Carolina Geological Survey and the National Weather Service so they can provide information if needed to community and emergency managers about areas at imminent risk.

USGS scientists install instruments to monitor and detect changes in local conditions about 10 miles southwest of Franklin, Nort
USGS scientists install instruments to monitor and detect changes in local conditions about 10 miles southwest of Franklin, North Carolina, in the Nantahala National Forest.

The USGS has landslide monitoring equipment in western North Carolina, and operated in cooperation with the North Carolina Geological Survey and the Colorado School of Mines. The USGS is also coordinating with the National Weather Service offices in Greenville-Spartanburg, SC, and in Blacksburg, VA, to keep a close eye on weather conditions and rainfall forecasts.

USGS science helps determine the likelihood and location of potential landslides as well as how fast and far they might move.

Stay Prepared

As Hurricane Joaquin continues to make its way northward and the nor’easter moves into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center will continue to provide the best forecasts for their paths. USGS crews will work through the weekend on ensuring that the best information is available to emergency responders and Federal, State, and local agencies, as well as the public.