As Hurricane Dorian approaches Florida, U.S. Geological Survey field crews are working along a 280-mile stretch of the state’s Atlantic coastline, installing instruments that will track the hurricane’s effects as it comes ashore.
USGS scientists are also installing the instruments, which gather precise storm tide information, along the Georgia coast, and preparing for installations on Florida’s Gulf coast if the storm’s path warrants it.
On Thursday and Friday, Aug. 29 and 30, the USGS is deploying 18 field scientists to install scientific instruments at more than 60 locations along the Florida coast between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. Some instruments are designed to measure the height and intensity of the storm surge if Dorian affects Florida’s Atlantic coast, as the National Hurricane Center forecasts it will. Others will monitor water levels on inland water bodies; the field crews will gather data from them immediately after the storm has passed.
In Georgia, field scientists will install 62 measuring devices the length of the state’s low-lying coastline, because slow-moving Hurricane Dorian may cause higher-than-normal ocean waves well to the north of the storm. Forecasters do not expect the hurricane to make landfall in Georgia.
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 storm surge experts, as well as sophisticated equipment for predicting and monitoring flood and tide conditions, and has been consulting with the National Hurricane Center and other agencies to prepare for Hurricane Dorian.
Prepared to Capture Coastal Storm Surges
Storm surges are increases in ocean water levels caused by extreme storms. Scientists want to better understand storm surges so forecasters can more accurately model and predict surge-related flooding, engineers can design better storm-resistant structures, and emergency responders can work more safely and effectively.
The USGS’ network of storm tide sensors along portions of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts can record water level and barometric pressure every 30 seconds to document storm surge crests, or waves of water, as they make landfall. Anticipating a storm’s path and intensity, USGS scientists often deploy storm tide sensors at other places along the coast just hours or days before a hurricane’s expected landfall. The sensors are housed in steel pipes a few inches wide and about a foot long. Working quickly, and often in severe weather, field crews install them on bridges, piers and other structures that have a good chance of surviving a hurricane’s storm surge.
The USGS is installing storm tide sensors at 57 locations along Florida’s Atlantic coast. The teams are also deploying barometric pressure sensors, one within ten miles of every storm tide sensor; the two devices work together to correlate the storm’s intensity with wave heights. The crews also plan to deploy five clusters of wave height sensors on boardwalks in Flagler, Volusia, Brevard, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties. By recording wave heights along a line running from the beach to the dune peak and behind the dune, these transects help create a detailed picture of wave action.
In Georgia, crews will install 50 storm tide sensors along the coast.