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It’s Hurricane Preparedness Week! Do you know the breadth of science that goes into helping storm forecasters, emergency responders, communities, resource managers and other decision-makers prepare for, cope with and recover from storms?

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey are dedicated to making sure the best knowledge on coastal storms is available to the people who need it. The USGS works with many partners to monitor waves and storm surge, forecast changes to the coast, measure flooding, create detailed maps of at-risk areas, monitor water levels and flow in rivers and streams, assess the potential spread of non-native species and provide an array of other resources and tools for situational awareness.

Take this short quiz—just seven questions—to see how much you know about hurricane science.

1. What was the highest wave height documented by a USGS storm tide sensor in 2021 from a hurricane along the Atlantic or Gulf coasts?

a) 5.81 feet

b) 10.33 feet

c) 13.48 feet

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

USGS storm tide sensor installed on a beach access pier in Grand Isle, Louisiana, for Hurricane Ida in 2021. The highest wave documented by this sensor during the hurricane was 13.48 feet on August 29. Photograph credit: James Fountain, USGS.
USGS storm tide sensor installed on a beach access pier in Grand Isle, Louisiana, for Hurricane Ida in 2021. Photograph credit: James Fountain, USGS.

Answer: The correct answer is c) 13.48 feet. The wave was recorded by a USGS storm tide sensor in Grand Isle, Louisiana, during Hurricane Ida on August 29, 2021. Prior to a hurricane making landfall, USGS field crews may install storm tide sensors along a storm’s projected path. Those sensors record the height, extent and timing of storm surge. They are installed on bridges, piers and other structures that have a good chance of surviving the storm. The USGS also has hundreds of pre-installed brackets in select locations that may be used to quickly install sensors. Learn more by reading about USGS storm tide monitoring. While there may have been higher wave heights not captured by USGS storm tide sensors, this example shows the power of hurricanes and the importance of science to help identify communities at risk.

 

2. What does the USGS use to create 3D elevation maps of the U.S.?

a) Pulses of light

b) Pulses of sound

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

San Juan Area Before Hurricane Maria
USGS 3D elevation map of San Juan area before Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The correct answer is a) pulses of light. The USGS produces high-resolution elevation imagery of the U.S. and its territories using a technology called Light Detection and Ranging. Lidar data are collected by aircraft using pulses of light that reflect off objects on the ground. To help with hurricane preparedness, elevation data are used to map flood inundation, evaluate topographic changes such as beach and dune erosion and identify damage to buildings and other infrastructure. Up-to-date elevation data are also essential for supporting storm surge models and infrastructure repair and redevelopment after a storm. Learn more on the USGS 3D Elevation Program website.

 

3. How long before a storm makes landfall can the USGS typically forecast potential overwash, dune erosion, inundation and flooding along beaches?

a) 24 hours

b) 48 hours

c) 72 hours

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal - Hurricane Irma
Screenshot of the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Answer: The correct answer is c) 72 hours. Typically, 72 hours before a storm is expected to make landfall, the USGS will estimate various impacts to sandy beaches. This includes the timing and height of water levels at the shoreline, where sand dunes are likely to be eroded or overwashed by waves and where coastal areas behind the dunes could be inundated by seawater. The forecasts are created using detailed USGS data on the shape and elevation of beaches in combination with wave and water level predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Those forecasts are available on the Coastal Change Hazards Portal.

 

4. True or false? Hurricanes can lead to the spread of non-native plants and animals that disrupt the environment?

a)      True

b)      False

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

Flathead catfish seen underwater from front
The flathead catfish, which is native to the Mississippi Basin, has been sighted in the Carolinas and could have been spread by Hurricane Florence's floodwaters in 2018. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Answer: The correct answer is a) true. Coastal and inland flooding has the potential to spread non-native freshwater plants and animals into new water bodies. Some species can become invasive, disrupting living communities or changing the landscape. USGS scientists create maps that show where non-native aquatic plant and animal species may have been spread by floodwaters. To create the maps, scientists use USGS data on water levels and flow as well as storm surge heights to identify places where waterways may have merged during flooding. That insight is combined with information on established plant and animal populations in the area. Visit the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Flood and Storm Tracker for more information.

 

5. How many permanent streamgages does the USGS operate across the nation to monitor water levels?

a)      56

b)      10 in each state

c)      More than 11,000

d)      None are permanent

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

USGS streamgage on Buffalo Bayou, Houston, after Hurricane Harvey
USGS streamgage on Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Answer: The correct answer is c) more than 11,000. The USGS has a nationwide network of permanent streamgages in rivers and streams that provide data on water levels, with most collecting data on streamflow too. USGS streamgages typically collect data every 15 to 60 minutes or more frequently in times of flooding. USGS scientists may also install rapid deployment gauges at locations that do not have permanent gauges but are at risk of flooding due to an approaching storm. USGS streamgage data can be found on the USGS National Water Dashboard. Data from the array of USGS gauges, sensors and observations that monitor flooding can be seen on the USGS Flood Event Viewer. The public can sign up to receive updates about water conditions in an area of interest through the USGS WaterAlert system.

 

6. Which of the following are important pieces of evidence in determining how high water levels reached during coastal storms?

a)      Seeds

b)      Grass blades

c)      Leaves

d)      All the above

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

Image shows a USGS scientist in a PFD taking a high-water mark
USGS scientist documents high water marks after flooding in 2017 along the Colorado River in Matagorda County, Texas, from Hurricane Harvey. Photograph credit: Scott Green, USGS.

Answer: The correct answer is d) all the above. After a storm has passed, USGS scientists often travel across affected areas to document high water. They look for telltale lines of debris such as seeds, leaves and grass blades left behind on tree trunks, buildings, bridges and other structures as floodwaters recede. Those marks help determine the depth and range of the flooding. This fieldwork is time-sensitive because high-water marks can be destroyed by weather and cleanup efforts. Learn more by reading a USGS publication on identifying high-water marks.

 

7. Through the end of what month does hurricane season typically last?

a)      September

b)      October

c)      November

d)      December

Scroll down below the image to see the answer.

Oblique aerial photograph near Rodanthe, NC, looking south along the coast on August 30, 2011, three days after landfall of Hurr
Oblique aerial photograph near Rodanthe, North Carolina, looking south along the coast on August 30, 2011, three days after landfall of Hurricane Irene. Photograph credit: Karen Morgan, USGS.

Answer: The correct answer is c) November. Hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific officially begins May 15 and ends November 30, while the Atlantic and Central Pacific begins June 1 and ends November 30. While hurricanes are of most concern during those months, storms can occur outside of hurricane season in any given year. Visit the USGS hurricane website to learn more about USGS resources and tools.

Start with Science

Tropical storms, hurricanes and other large coastal storms can impact seaside and inland communities and ecosystems with high winds, storm surge, erosion and flooding. These forces can destroy buildings, roads and bridges and reshape the nation’s coastline.

USGS science can help inform critical decisions such as evacuation plans by emergency managers; relief efforts and flood insurance maps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency; coastal and riverine flood forecasts by NOAA; 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 that increase preparedness, reduce risk and enhance resilience for nearby communities.

Prior to the start of hurricane season, or for advice on how to build an emergency kit or prepare for a range of disasters and emergencies, people can visit ready.gov or listo.gov.