The 2023 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.
The USGS collects critical information about storm tides, one of the most serious hurricane threats to people and infrastructure
Part two of a seven-part series highlighting USGS hurricane science
As a hurricane approaches land, the storm tide it produces is one of the most serious hurricane threats to people and infrastructure. Storm tide is ocean water that’s pushed onshore by a tropical storm or hurricane’s strong sustained winds, combined with the changes in water elevation caused by tidal cycles. Storm tide can cause water levels to rise and flood large areas very quickly and poses a major risk for drowning.
Before a storm makes landfall, the USGS may deploy scientific instruments called storm-tide sensors. These specialized instruments help determine the severity of a storm by recording data on storm tides, waves and coastal flooding. USGS and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists use this information to improve forecast models. The data may also help relief efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal, state and local agencies by pinpointing the areas hardest hit by storm-tide flooding.
Once it’s determined a hurricane or tropical storm will likely strike the U.S., USGS experts, often in discussion with the National Hurricane Center and FEMA, will decide whether and where to deploy storm-tide sensors. If deployed, USGS crews will attach the sensors to sturdy coastal infrastructure like bridges and piers that are less likely to be washed away by strong waves. Once conditions allow scientists to return to the field, crews collect the sensors so the data they recorded can be downloaded.
The value of storm-tide sensor data continues long after a storm passes. The information can be used to design structures to better withstand floods, assess how well dunes and wetlands reduce storm damage, and inform land-use practices and building codes that can lead to more resilient coastal communities.
This year, the USGS is continuing an ongoing pilot program to develop methods to deliver storm-tide sensor data faster than current methods permit. This includes storm-tide sensors that can be permanently installed, cutting down sensor deployment times, and sensors that can transmit, allowing the data to be available within hours instead of days.
Come back next week to learn about coastal change and how alterations to shorelines can affect coastal flooding and how the USGS works to forecast coastal changes before storms make landfall.
Learn more about USGS hurricane science.
* Editor’s note: The image at the top of the page shows Lukas Medo, a USGS hydrologic technician, installing a storm-tide sensor in Levy County, Florida, September 26, 2022, ahead of Hurricane Ian's landfall. Photo by Patrick Marasco, USGS.
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