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October 6, 2016

USGS is engaged in research, monitoring, sampling and coastal change forecasting associated with Hurricane Matthew from Florida north up into Virginia.

To learn about storm sensors and see their location, explore the USGS Coastal Change Hazard Portal, or see satellite imagery before and after the storm, visit the USGS Hurricane Matthew page.

Sensing the Storm

As Hurricane Matthew moves toward Florida’s east coast and heads north, teams of U.S. Geological Survey hydrologists and hydrologic technicians are completing deployment of hundreds of sensors from Florida to Virginia.  These sensors will gather information needed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and emergency managers to monitor and eventually predict the timing, extent and magnitude of overland storm tide. They will a also provide data to improve storm tide forecasts for future events. The sensors are deployed just days to hours before a storm makes landfall.

Installing rapid deployment gage near Myrtle Beach, SC
Tim Pojunas (hydrologist) and Jym Chapman (hydologic technician) installing a rapid deployment gage (RDG) at Withers Swash at South Ocean Blvd. near Myrtle Beach, SC.  The RDG measures water-surface elevation and various meteorological parameters and transmits the data, in real-time, to NWISWeb.  

USGS uses two different kinds of special storm sensors to collect, record, and in many cases, transmit the data in real-time.  Both types of  instruments record entire hydrograph of the event to include, the precise time a storm tide arrives, depth of the water throughout the event, the height and frequency of waves caused by storms, the duration of the flood and the time for water to recede.

One type of sensor is the Rapid Deployment Gauge or RDG. RDGs collect and transmit real-time water-levels and local meteorologic data in areas that are susceptible to the effects of storm-tide flooding at locations critical to emergency management.  The second sensor type (pressure sensor) records water-level and wave data on-site for recovery after the storm has passed. The data are processed back at the office for dissemination via the web. Some of these sensors are arranged in long transits (lines) perpendicular to the coast to help measure how local topography, natural features and land use can reduce or increase wave heights and the resulting flood damage.

Both sets of sensors greatly augment the relatively sparse permanent coastal tide gauges operated by either USGS or NOAA which are recording data 24/7.

To learn where and which type of sensors and gauges are deployed along the coast in preparation for Hurricane Matthew by visiting the Hurricane and Flood Response Map Viewer, and selecting Matthew October 2016.

Inland flooding may also occur with the impacts of the storm, to learn more about possible water levels in the rivers and streams that may be impacted by Hurricane Matthew, visit USGS WaterWatch.




This is a screenshot of the USGS coastal change hazards portal. It shows the projections of erosion from Hurricane Matthew
This is a screenshot of the USGS coastal change hazards portal. 

Documenting and Forecasting Coastal Change in Real-Time

Hurricanes generate dangerous waves and high water levels capable of moving large amounts of sand, destroying buildings and infrastructure, and even taking lives. Through processes like dune erosion, overwash and inundation, storms reshape our nation's coastline.

The USGS Coastal Change Hazard Portal provides an interactive site where users can understand Hurricane Matthew’s potential impacts to beaches and dunes. It provides information that can aid in decisions involving emergency preparedness as well as post-storm recovery and restoration.

The portal provides forecast of the probability of how the beaches will respond during Hurricane Matthew, and includes information on dune erosion, overwash and inundation. USGS coastal change models combine NOAA-modeled waves and surge with detailed coastal elevation data, provided by the USGS, to estimate the elevation of total water levels at the shoreline and the probability of coastal erosion. The forecast for each storm shows if significant dune erosion is expected, where overwash is likely, and the likelihood of the beach and dunes being inundated by elevated waters.

A key component of the portal is the ability to explore coastal hazard risks at varied scales, from a local area of interest to a national perspective.

Forecasts in the portal are updated as NOAA projections of storm path and strength change. Recent forecasts indicated extensive beach and dune erosion is expected for more than 80 percent of the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coastline. 

Stretches of the coast with low dunes are particularly vulnerable to being overwashed by waves and surge. Isolated parts of the very low-lying barrier islands in Georgia are expected to experience inundation as storm surge completely submerges the beach and dunes. Larger stretches of the coast are likely to experience overwash, where waves and storm surge may transport large amounts of sand across coastal environments, depositing sand both inland and offshore, causing significant changes to the landscape. This includes places such as Hutchinson Island, Florida; Canaveral National Seashore, Florida; Sea Island, Georgia; and Edisto Island, South Carolina 

The USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal also contains coastal change assessments for generalized hurricane and nor’easter conditions. This information can be used to address a range of coastal management issues. It is updated with the most current catalogues of information and tools that can be used to evaluate risk and inform actions that lead to improved coastal resilience.

Water Quality and Satellite Imagery

Teams from The National Water Quality Program will assist in the coordination of the USGS water-quality response to Hurricane Matthew working with other USGS response teams involved in the hazard response. In the event that the storm impacts large inland and coastal rivers, water-quality sampling will be initiated at selected river and stream sites that are part of the National Water Quality Network along the East coast that have long-term historical water-quality records.

USGS continues to monitor the storm from the air as well as on the ground. Pre-event data is available on the USGS Hazards Data Distribution System (HDDS). Users can select the event and view satellite imagery of the path prior to the storm, and about 36 hours later, post event data will be available. Currently there are Landsat-8 and other pre-event data available through HDDS. For up to date notifications, subscribe to the HDDS RSS ( or Twitter ( feeds.

To learn more about USGS research and monitoring efforts associated with Hurricane Matthew, visit  


And to be prepared for storm events visit or

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