The past week has been challenging for many of us dealing with Hurricane Florence. From pre-storm preparations to evacuations to damage assessments, we have weathered this major event and have accounted for all of our personnel in the affected area. However, so many people continue to face incredible hardships. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by this devastating storm. Please note that FEMA is providing critical information for people impacted by Florence, as well as ways that individual citizens can help those in need. With this in mind, here is a summary of recent NOS activities supporting response and recovery efforts:
The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) deployed personnel to North Carolina and South Carolina to provide NOAA scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), focusing on pollution. In addition to household hazardous materials, commercial oil, and other materials, the area impacted by Florence contains a significant number of agricultural waste lagoons, which are also a pollution concern. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified 40 Superfund sites, oil and coal sites, and other facilities that pose pollution risks. OR&R is using National Geodetic Survey imagery to identify pollution targets post-storm and is currently supporting two command posts.
The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) is collecting damage-assessment imagery of areas identified by NOAA in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as other state and federal interests. A team of NOAA aviators and sensor operators is capturing the images via specialized remote-sensing cameras aboard NOAA's King Air aircraft flying at altitudes ranging from 500–3,500 feet (152–1,067 meters). Imagery is processed and posted online within 12 hours, including flight and processing time, and may be viewed online via the NGS aerial imagery viewer. NOAA's aerial imagery captures storm damage to coastal areas and aids safe navigation. It is a cost-effective tool for determining the extent of flood damages and assessing damage to major ports and waterways, coastlines, infrastructure, and coastal communities.
The Office of Coast Survey’s (OCS) navigation managers and response teams were positioned and standing by to conduct hydrographic surveys in affected ports and waterways as Hurricane Florence made landfall. As of September 18, the mobile integrated survey team surveyed Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina. Navigation response teams also surveyed the Port of Morehead City and Cape Fear River, North Carolina. Four Dangers to Navigation (DTON) were found in the Cape Fear River and reported to the USCG. OCS is adding them to its electronic navigational charts. OCS anticipates more DTONs may be found as surveying continues. This data will support the USCG’s decision to reopen the Port of Wilmington. Navigation managers continue to coordinate with the USCG, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and state partners in the area. An OCS storm-surge modeling expert is also embedded with the National Hurricane Center in Miami to assist with modeling products.
The Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) monitored water levels and meteorological conditions in real time for locations affected by Florence via its online product, Storm Quicklook. For the first time, CO-OPS communicated real-time water level information via NOS social media during the storm. CO-OPS also provided tidal information to the Office of Coast Survey to support its post-storm emergency hydrographic surveys. During the storm, several stations in North Carolina broke records for the highest recorded water levels. NOAA’s tide gauge in Beaufort set a new record at 3.74 ft (1.13m) above high tide, breaking the record set in 1955 during Hurricane Ione. The tide gauge at Wrightsville Beach reached 4.11 ft (1.25m), breaking the record set in 2015 by Hurricane Joaquin. Water levels in Wilmington reached 3.6 feet (1.09m), breaking the record set in 2016 by Hurricane Matthew.
The U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) is working closely with its Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA) to monitor the hurricane aftermath and assist with response. SECOORA deployed two gliders off the North Carolina and Georgia coasts to gather sea surface temperature and salinity data before and during Florence. Gliders transmitted data to the IOOS Glider DAC continuously throughout the storm. Data from Florence can be found on SECOORA's Florence Dashboard, and general hurricane resources are gathered on the IOOS Hurricane Resources page. Additionally, mid-Atlantic regional association partners at Rutgers posted a blog comparing hurricane picket line glider observations to model output.
The Office for Coastal Management (OCM) is coordinating with North Carolina and South Carolina estuarine research reserves and coastal zone management (CZM) programs to identify needs and increase awareness of, and access to, relevant NOAA resources. CZM emergency permitting programs are in place, or are being put into place, to hasten community recovery efforts. Through the online Digital Coast platform and other means, OCM staff are providing resources to aid in recovery efforts, including LIDAR, elevation, and land cover data; risk and vulnerability assessment methods; and coastal flood inundation and impacts maps. OCM is also providing space in Charleston for NGS to upload flight data, and is giving on-site technical assistance to the Charleston National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center in Miami with surge modeling and mapping. While all federal and state partner staff are safe, full reports are not yet available regarding impacts to facilities, equipment, and sites.
The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) is tracking the locations and ensuring the safety of its staff and infrastructure. Twenty-three federal employees and 25 contract staff evacuated facilities at Charleston and Beaufort. As of September 17, NCCOS’s two labs in Charleston are open and operating normally. The Beaufort lab is closed and running on generator power with enough fuel for 7–10 days. The Beaufort lab experienced minor water damage and downed trees, but power outages in the area are predicted to last for weeks.
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) is coordinating with NOAA offices in Virginia and Georgia to assist as needed. The staff and offices of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in Virginia and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia are safe and undamaged. Offices were closed and evacuated during the storm but are now open. A small research vessel located at the Monitor sanctuary suffered minor fender damage to its hull.
Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Acting Assistant Administrator
Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management, National Ocean Service