Editor's Note: This blog was originally published September 3, 2019, before Hurricane Dorian had reached the US. You can view USGS gathered and interpreted data here.
Hurricane Dorian is currently moving ever closer to the Florida coast, having left a path of devastation and destruction in the Bahamas. As I check for updates on the storm’s intensity and direction, there are two things I worry about: the immediate destructive power of the storm surge and the wind, and the longer-lasting effects of flooding once the storm has moved on.
Ahead of a storm like Dorian, there are steps communities can take to protect human life and property. Some measures, like evacuation orders or boarding up windows, are immediate and short term. Long term measures include protecting beaches from storm surges and ensuring stormwater pipes can handle increased flows. But regardless, we need good data about what to expect in order to properly prepare.
To that end, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has deployed 175 storm-tide sensors and 16 other instruments from Savannah, GA, down to Hollywood, FL, and along Florida’s Gulf Coast in order to track and measure the effects of Hurricane Dorian. According to USGS, “The data collected by these sensors is used to fine-tune future storm surge and coastal change forecasts and sometimes to guide recovery efforts, plan evacuation routes, identify areas hardest hit by storm surge, and improve structure designs to increase public safety.” While most of the sensors will track the Hurricane’s storm tide as it approaches, makes landfall, and departs, some will also track the water level of inland water bodies.
Ahead of major a major hurricane making landfall, the USGS gathers data from both permanent sensors and gauges and from rapid deployment gauges (RDGs) installed in areas without permanent stream gauges where flooding is likely. The data recorded by the RDGs help FEMA to target emergency relief during and after flooding. You can view the data, some of which is recorded in real-time, the USGS Flood Event Viewer for Hurricane Dorian.
The ability to effectively direct emergency relief and funding is vital, but there are longer-term benefits as well. Communities can use the data collected by USGS sensors and devices to improve infrastructure and create more resiliency in the future. Flood and flow data could be used to support a push for separating stormwater and sewer systems and highlight areas where stormwater infrastructure needs improvements or upgrades. Good data can vindicate stormwater management best practices or support a push for more funding.
With climate change making hurricanes like Dorian both more frequent and more intense, using accurate and timely data to protect human life and property will only become more important.
What are some applications you see for the USGS data being gathered off the coast of Florida? Send your comments, thoughts, and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.