USGS Responds to Hurricane Lane

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Editor’s note: This article will be updated online with more information on the USGS response to Hurricane Lane as it becomes available.

Before and after views of a water fall.  First shows light flow of water over the falls, the second shows heavy flow.

Two views from the Rainbow Falls overlook, downstream of the Wailuku River streamgage near Hilo, Hawaiʻi. The image on the left shows a typical base flow of about 35 cubic feet per second (cfs). The image on the right shows the early impact of Hurricane Lane with a flow of about 26,000 cfs taken at 8:35 a.m. HST, August 23, 2018. This U.S. Geological Survey streamgage has been in operation since 1929 with the highest recorded peak flow of 80,000 cfs in the early 1940s. Flows caused by Hurricane Lane later on August 23 potentially exceeded that record with a provisional flow of 82,300 cfs. (Credit: Left: Ryan McClymont, Right: Gordon Tribble, USGS. Public domain.)

As Hurricane Lane nears Hawaiʻi, the U.S. Geological Survey’s experts on storm-related hazards are taking action, along with other federal agencies, to help minimize potential risks to lives and property.

The USGS is closely monitoring the approaching hurricane in consultation with the National Hurricane Center and other agencies. Storm surge, coastal erosion and inland flooding are among the most dangerous natural hazards unleashed by hurricanes, with the capacity to destroy homes and businesses, wipe out roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and profoundly alter landscapes. The USGS has experts on these hazards, as well as sophisticated equipment for monitoring actual flood and tide conditions.

Diagram of a streamgage installation, USGS

Streamgage Installation, NMWSC (Public domain.)

Streamgaging Network at the Ready

The USGS Streamgaging Network operates sensors that record water levels and other key pieces of information on inland rivers and streams throughout the nation. With the support of local, state and federal agencies, the USGS uses this nationwide network to provide real-time data to the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency and others.

The streamgages’ information is routinely used for a variety of non-emergency purposes, such as tracking and managing water supplies, monitoring floods and droughts, designing roads and bridges and planning recreational activities on rivers and streams. In extreme weather, these data help inform decision makers as they issue flood and evacuation warnings, coordinate emergency responses to communities and operate flood-control reservoirs. During a storm’s landfall, the network helps capture the depth and duration of storm-surge, the time of its arrival and its retreat.

Immediately after the worst of the storm has passed, USGS hydrologists will check inland streamgages to verify peak water levels, and measure high-water marks left by floodwaters on buildings, bridges and trees. In the days after the storm, this information helps emergency managers and insurers steer resources to the hardest hit areas. The crews will also calibrate and repair any streamgages damaged by the storm to ensure they continue providing valuable information in the aftermath of the storm.

Hawaiʻi Landslide Susceptibility Maps

Hurricane Lane is already bringing heavy rain to the Hawaiian Islands, along with the potential for debris flows and other landslides. Landslide Susceptibility Data and Maps for Hawaiʻi provide tools for hazard assessment prior to an event that may cause landslides. 

Monitoring is essential to predicting the behavior of landslides and for forecasting which storms can trigger large numbers of landslides. Scientists in the USGS Landslide Hazards Program work with colleagues at the Colorado School of Mines and other agencies and institutions to monitor selected landslides and hillsides in order to learn more about the physical processes that trigger landslides or control their movement.

Continuous, real-time monitoring occurs at some sites and periodic monitoring occurs at others; the most recent measurements are provided on-line for a few of our monitoring sites. Graphs showing the most recent data are updated regularly with update cycles ranging from 15 minutes to 24 hours. Updates may be interrupted occasionally by instrument, computer or network malfunctions.

Landslide monitoring data and information provided on this web site are preliminary and have not been reviewed for accuracy; therefore the data are subject to revision.

Map of Oahu

These are preliminary data subject to revision that have not cleared USGS approval. These display 10-year, 50-year, and 100-year flood zones along all sides of the islands and are not explicitly for Hurricane Lane, but does show the relative susceptibility of areas. (Public domain)

Scientists Will Track Coastal Changes

The USGS deployed 44 instruments off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Molokaʻi as part of an experiment on a coral reef-lined shoreline. There is also a camera system on shore measuring wave-driven run-up and flooding. It is the largest-ever project looking at waves, wave-driven flooding and coastal change.

Using Video Imagery to Study Coastal Change 

The experiment is driven by the degradation of coastal habitats, particularly coral reefs, that raises risks by exposing communities to flooding hazards. The protective services of these natural defenses are not assessed in the same rigorous, economic terms as artificial defenses such as seawalls, and therefore they are often not considered in decision-making.

The data collected before, during and after Hurricane Lane will improve the basic understanding of coastal change processes, which in turn will improve future models.

The information can help emergency managers decide which areas to evacuate, which roads to use and where to position heavy equipment for post-storm clean-up. 

More Resources to Help Everyone Prepare

As USGS continues to take all appropriate preparedness and response actions as Hurricane Lane develops over the coming days, those potentially in the storm’s path can visit or for tips on creating emergency plans and putting together an emergency supply kit.

Hurricane Lane Resources: