noaa.gov

Responding to Hurricanes

satellite image of Hurricane Katrina

Satellite image of Hurricane Katrina. As a storm approaches U.S. coastal areas, NOS uses coastal observations and computer models to prepare for, mitigate, and respond to coastal flooding, one the greatest threats to life and property during a hurricane.


NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) brings a wealth of coastal science, management, and operational expertise to aid communities impacted by hurricanes in their recovery. NOS is on the front lines to help America understand, predict, and respond to the challenges facing our oceans and coasts. The following is a compilation of NOS's roles and responsibilities related to preparedness, response, and recovery before, during, and after a hurricane.


Disaster Preparedness

NOAA’s Disaster Response Center (DRC) enhances capacity to prepare for and respond to disasters. The DRC brings together NOAA-wide resources to prepare federal, state, and local decision makers for a variety of hazards and threats. The DRC hosts trainings, drills, and workshops to help Gulf communities prepare for storms while enhancing NOAA’s coordination and emergency planning to conduct an organized and effective response.


Water-level Monitoring

The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services monitors and disseminates observations of water levels, currents, and weather information in real time via the National Water Level Observation Network and the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System. Collected real-time environmental information helps coastal authorities prepare for, mitigate, and respond to storm tides and coastal flooding. NOS also regularly updates Storm QuickLook, an online compilation of ocean and weather observations within a coastal area.

Water-level Monitoring Tools:

  • Storm QuickLook
    This website provides a synopsis of near real-time ocean and weather observations at specific water-level gauge locations affected by a tropical storm.
  • National Water Level Observation Network Real-time Data
    Tide and weather observations are available in real-time at the more than 200 National Water Level Observation Network observation platforms located throughout the U.S., Pacific Islands, and Caribbean.
  • Sea Levels Online
    This website provides trends for sea level rise, calculated using data collected at National Water Level Observation Network tide stations for more than 150 years.
  • Tidal Datums
    This website provides tidal datums, which are standard elevations defined by a certain phase of the tide, for stations around the United States.
  • NOAA Tide Predictions
    The NOAA Tide Predictions application provides astronomical tide prediction tables for the calendar year at water-level stations around the U.S., searchable by name, station ID, or latitude/longitude.

Ocean and Coastal Observations Data

NOAA coordinates the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®). This federal, regional, and private-sector partnership provides ocean and coastal data and information to support preparation and response efforts and to inform forecasts and predictions ahead of hurricanes. For example, the IOOS regions collect data inside the hurricane with unmanned, underwater robotic vehicles to increase understanding of hurricane intensity. In addition, radar systems measure surface current speed and direction as hurricanes pass through, to aid models and forecasts. IOOS is also partnering with National Weather Service (NWS) to make High Frequency radar data accessible through the NWS Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System and National Centers for Environmental Prediction data tanks. IOOS data helps decision makers protect our safety, economy, and environment.

Observations Data Tools:

  • Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS®)
    Located in 18 ports around the U.S., this system measures and disseminates real-time observations and predictions of water levels, currents, salinity, and meteorological parameters (e.g., winds, atmospheric pressure, and air and water temperatures) needed for safe navigation.
  • Operational Forecast Systems
    NOS operates hydrodynamic coastal oceanographic models that provide near-term forecasts of water levels, currents, salinity, and water temperature for a limited number of ports and estuaries in the United States. 
  • Integrated Ocean Observing System
    The Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) website provides links to regional IOOS websites where users can access ocean and coastal data and information before, during, and after hurricanes and other disasters. 

Navigation Surveys

Immediately following a hurricane, the Office of Coast Survey provides emergency hydrographic services for affected port areas. These services are performed by Navigation Response Teams. These mobile emergency response units use echo sounders to check for submerged obstructions that pose hazards to vessels, collect data to update nautical charts, and provide mapping support. The work of these teams is essential to speeding the re-opening of ports and waterways.


Aerial Imagery Surveys

Just hours after a hurricane hits a coastal area, the National Geodetic Survey begins aerial survey missions to assess storm damage. Imagery and /or Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data are collected, rapidly processed, and made available via open source Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The information contained in these data and images provide emergency and coastal managers with information needed to develop recovery strategies, facilitate search and rescue efforts, identify hazards to navigation and HAZMAT spills, locate errant vessels, and provide documentation necessary for damage assessment through the comparison of before and after imagery. Images are also available for viewing and download by the general public as a tool to assess impacts to their community.

Aerial Imagery Survey Tools:

  • Emergency Response Imagery
    The Emergency Response Imagery website provides access to aerial imagery such as photographs collected by NOAA aircraft following natural or human-made disasters.
  • Emergency Response Imagery Mobile Web Application
    This mobile application allows emergency responders and the public to quickly access images of disaster-impacted areas collected by NOAA aircraft using an iOS or Android mobile device or with the latest version of Google Chrome on a desktop computer.

Pollution Response

After a hurricane, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific support to hazardous materials response efforts in coastal areas. The office surveys vessels or containers that may be leaking fuel, oil, or other hazardous materials; flies missions to identify and document spill sources; and uses computer models to predict spill movement and determine pollution threats. OR&R also provides guidance on marine debris and vessel salvage, conducts shoreline cleanup assessments, collects information to understand natural resource impacts from spills in affected areas, and works to assess and restore resources injured by spills.

 

Pollution Response Tools:

  • ERMA
    The Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) is an online mapping tool that integrates both static and real-time data, such as Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps, ship locations, weather, and ocean currents, in a centralized, easy-to-use format for environmental responders and decision makers.

Contaminant Assessments

NOAA’s National Status and Trends (NS&T) Program, part of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, coordinates with multiple partners to develop strategies to assess the environmental impacts of contaminants in coastal and estuarine waters in the aftermath of hurricanes. Of special concern is assessing the risk to human health of eating fish and shellfish and ensuring seafood safety.


Maps and Data Analysis

The Office of Response and Restoration’s Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) integrates static and real-time data for science based decisions in one common operational picture for emergency response. Following a hurricane, the NOAA Coastal Services Center provides the satellite and aerial images needed to generate maps that help officials understand the long-term effects of the hurricane. These data products include pre-hurricane imagery and digital elevation data from a variety of sources; before and after imagery comparisons; and maps depicting ecological impacts, debris assessment, and wetlands loss along the coast. The Center may also conduct studies that focus on a storm’s economic impacts.

Maps and Data Analysis Tools:

  • Digital Coast
    NOAA's Digital Coastal is an online access point for much of NOAA's data and tools that aid in hurricane recovery such as LIDAR data, coastal socio-economic and land use change data, Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Impacts Viewer, and Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps.

Long-term Recovery Planning

The NOAA Coastal Services Center and the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management provide assistance in long-term recovery planning in areas impacted by a hurricane. Staff may assist in the development of coastal project plans, coordinate with other federal and state organizations involved in recovery planning, and assist with the design and implementation of activities to involve local communities in planning for their own long-term recovery.

Recovery Tools:

  • Historical Hurricane Tracks
    The Historical Hurricane Tracks tool allows users to track local historical storm activity, review specific storm tracks, and obtain information about a particular storm's landfall.
  • CZMA Climate Change and Coastal Hazards E-News Update
    The Coastal Zone Management Act Climate Change and Coastal Hazards E-News Update provides information about NOAA and other agency initiatives, funding opportunities, publications and websites, tools and projects, and more to help keep state and territory coastal program managers informed about climate change (as it pertains to coastal hazards) and coastal hazards activities.