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Improved Resilience in Active 2020 Hurricane Season due to Science Investments from 2017 Hurricane Recovery Funds

The record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is the first on record in which 9 tropical storms formed before August and 13 before Sep­tember. Investments made in USGS coastal change science after the powerful 2017 hurricane season were focused on improving hazards plan­ning for future storms. 

This article is part of the Sound Waves Special Issue on Coastal Change Hazards.

The scien­tific advancements made by USGS since the 2017 hurricane season are paying off by improving forecasting tools, improv­ing risk awareness, and creating more resilient communities. Here are a few examples:

Map of the east US coast and Gulf of Mexico with colored lines along the coast color coded for years in yellow, blue, and red
The Total Water Level and Coastal Change Forecast has continually expanded since real-time forecasts began in 2015. In 2020, new regions of the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts were added to the forecast and officially approved for use in National Weather Service Forecasts. 


Updated Hurricane-Induced Water-Level Forecasting

The USGS has updated mod­els forecasting hurricane-induced total water levels and coastal change hazards for the southeastern United States. These models provide real-time probabilities of hurricane induced coastal flooding and erosion that threaten U.S. coast­lines during this active season, as well as for other extreme storms through­out the year. The models are based on USGS lidar-derived dune and beach features, USGS estimates of waves at the shoreline, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra­tion (NOAA) model-derived offshore waves and water levels, Federal agencies, such as NOAA, USGS, and the National Park Service (NPS), as well as local officials and emergency management offices, use the forecast as guidance to inform pre-and post-storm safety and property damage decisions.

See the related article: Total Water Level and Coastal Change Forecast expands to include more than a thousand miles of new coverage

Shallow, underwater photo of a reef with various species of corals growing on the rocky substrate.
A wave-tide gauge, pictured here on a coral reef among sea rods, brain corals, and sea fans, is installed off Isla Verde in San Juan, Puerto Rico.





Expanded Models for Coastal Change Hazards in Puerto Rico

The USGS has expanded models for understanding storm-induced coastal change hazards in Puerto Rico. Because of different coastal terrain on the island, including coral- and rock-fronted coastlines, the USGS devel­oped alternate modeling approaches. For example, the USGS created a new method to delineate coastal cliffs from lidar data, to accurately map the coast­line of Puerto Rico and model future coastal hazards. USGS also partnered with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez to deploy a series of USGS instruments across the reefs and shoreline at Rincon, Puerto Rico to better understand flooding along coral reef-fringed coasts

Learn about Using Video Imagery to Study Wave Dynamics in Tres Palmas.

Scientists use these data to compare and contrast different coastal flooding models to accurately forecast coastal storm-induced flooding.

Early results show that storm dam­aged reefs off Florida and Puerto Rico in 2017 increased coastal flooding hazards to people and infrastructure, and that coral reef restoration could reduce those hazards. FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may use these data to inform strategies for restoring 2020 hurricane season impacts and to mitigate impacts in the future.


Learn more about USGS Supplemental Disaster Recovery Activities.

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