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September 26, 2022

As Hurricane Ian continues to move closer to the U.S., the U.S. Geological Survey is preparing for potential landfall. USGS crews are deploying additional equipment to measure waves, storm surge, and coastal change. Teams are reinforcing existing instruments before the winds and water arrive.

In addition, the USGS has set up the tools that first responders and citizens can use to track the impacts of the storm as it comes ashore. These tools will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

Image shows a screenshot of the Flood Event Viewer with sensors marked and the hurricane path marked
The USGS Flood Event Viewer collects all available USGS information about Hurricane Ian into a single web portal.

Coastal Impacts—What will happen to the shoreline?

The leading edge where impacts will be first felt is the shoreline. The National Hurricane Center is currently forecasting that Ian will make landfall as a hurricane along the west coast of Florida, bringing with it life-threatening storm surge. This surge, along with the normal tidal cycle, raises water levels higher on the beach, allowing storm waves to pound protective sand dunes. The combination of surge, tides and waves can result in significant erosion, and may even overtop coastal dunes and inundate areas inland.

Storm surge is among the most dangerous natural hazards unleashed by hurricanes and tropical storms and experts are predicting some areas in Ian’s path could get life threatening flooding. Surge can destroy homes and businesses; wipe out roads, bridges, water and sewer systems; and profoundly alter coastal landscapes.

Image shows a USGS scientist in a PFD installing a storm-tide sensor on a pier
Lukas Medo, a USGS hydrologic technician, installs a water-level sensor in Levy County, Florida, September 26, ahead of Hurricane Ian's landfall. The sensors being deployed are housed in vented steel pipes a few inches wide and range from about a foot to several feet long. They will be installed on bridges, piers, and other structures that have a good chance of surviving the storm. Photo by Patrick Marasco, USGS. 

To monitor potential storm surge, tide and waves from Ian, crews from the USGS Caribbean Florida Water Science Center and USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center are deploying more than 150 sensors in Florida and along the Georgia coast. These sensors provide essential water level and wave data that local, state and federal officials can use to inform decisions that help protect lives and property. After the storm, scientists use the information gathered by the sensors to improve future storm surge and coastal change forecasts. The sensor data can also be used to guide recovery efforts, plan evacuation routes, identify areas hardest hit by storm tide flooding, inform building code decisions and improve structure designs to increase public safety.

Image shows a screenshot of the Hurricane Ian Coastal Change Portal
The USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal Forecasts for Hurricane Ian.

In addition, the USGS Total Water Level and Coastal Change Forecast Viewer provides an hourly 6-day forecast of the potential for coastal change in Ian’s path, giving communities in coastal areas an idea of what dune erosion to anticipate, from no impacts to the potential for inundation of dunes. USGS experts are also working to update the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal with worst-case forecasted coastal impacts for Ian.

Inland Flooding Potential

It’s the end of the wet season for Florida, so many of the streams in the area likely to be affected by Ian are already at above average flow. The extra rainfall from Ian may increase chances of flooding, especially in areas where storm tide prevents the streams from effectively draining to the Gulf of Mexico.

USGS crews are currently in the field to check on streams in the region and to ensure USGS streamgages are working properly before Ian arrives. In addition, USGS crews plan to install temporary Rapid-Deployment Gages in targeted locations to provided additional real-time information to augment the USGS streamgage network. The USGS data provided is a key resource used by the National Weather Service and others to make flood forecasts and flood control decisions.

Communities can get real-time stream-level information from the USGS National Water Dashboard.

Image shows a screenshot of the National Water Dashboard with streamgages marked
The USGS National Water Dashboard shows current conditions on streams in Florida. Since it's the end of the wet season there, many streams are already at above-average levels, increasing the risk of flooding.

Start with Science

The National Hurricane Center is providing regular updates on the progression of Hurricane Ian, and the USGS is ready to support response efforts with the best-available information. As new sensors and equipment are set up and new forecasts are made, the USGS will update all of its tools so that first-responders, communities and individuals can stay informed as Ian makes landfall.

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