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The 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 through November 30. Throughout the season, the U.S. Geological Survey will be providing science that can help guide efforts to protect lives and property if a storm threatens the U.S. 

Tens of millions of Americans live in areas vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms, many of which are inland, far from the coast. Flooding caused by these storms sometimes lasts weeks after they pass, often occurring hundreds of miles inland from where they made landfall.

Knowing where flooding is occurring, how significant it might be, and where waters are rising is critical information used to help protect people and communities. The U.S. Geological Survey provides this vital flood data via a nationwide network of more than 11,000 permanent streamgages installed along rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs. These streamgages provide near real-time information on water levels, with most also providing data on the volume of water flowing.

Animation showing rain totals and streamgage water levels during Hurricane Ida
Hurricane Ida made landfall August 29, 2021, as a Category 4 hurricane in Louisiana, and brought widespread precipitation and flooding across much of its path along the eastern U.S. This water footprint visualization shows the patterns of precipitation and river discharge for 21 USGS streamgages that were in the path of the storm.

USGS streamgage data on water levels and flows can help inform critical decisions such as evacuation plans by emergency managers; coastal and inland flood forecasts by the National Weather Service; and flood-control decisions by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The information gained from each storm also improves scientific understanding of storms and advances the USGS’s ability to inform decisions. This can help increase preparedness, reduce risk and enhance resilience for communities potentially affected by hurricanes and tropical storms.

The USGS streamgage network is one of the largest in the world. It provides near real-time water levels and flow year-round at many key locations across the nation. Data from USGS streamgages are available online on the USGS National Water Dashboard. In addition to streamgage data, this interactive website also delivers real-time precipitation, atmospheric, water-quality and groundwater data from more than 16,000 USGS observation stations across the country.

To better track flooding events – like those often associated with hurricanes and tropical storms– in areas not monitored year-round by streamgages, the USGS utilizes specialized devices called “rapid deployment gauges.” As the name suggests, these temporary gauges can be installed quickly at critical locations to augment the USGS’s nationwide streamgage network.

Rapid deployment gauges provide near real-time information to the public and emergency managers tracking floodwaters. This can include data on water levels, precipitation, wind speed, humidity and barometric pressure, and are available on the USGS Flood Event Viewer. This online tool displays rapid deployment gauge locations and data for current and past events.  

Come back next week to learn how hurricanes and tropical storms can spread invasive plants and animals through floodwaters and how the USGS estimates their potential spread.

*Editor’s note: The image at the top of the story shows a USGS streamgage in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017. USGS photo. 

 

In case you missed them, here are links to previous posts in this series:
Coming soon:
  • Hurricanes can spread invasive species if they survive the ride
  • Determining how high flood waters reached helps communities prepare for future floods
  • Maps and imagery for hurricane response

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