In the midst of great need, across all NOS programs, we answered the call to service as Hurricane Ian battered the Florida mainland and portions of Georgia and the Carolinas. As will often be the case with coastal storms and other disruptive events, NOS teams are not only essential to our nation’s response and recovery, but they live and work in areas impacted. For that, I am grateful to share that all of our personnel in the affected areas are safe and accounted for. And, I would like to commend our programs for their tremendous hard work and dedication to deploying during and after the storm to bring our very best talent and expertise to those affected by Hurricane Ian. To give you a sense of how much NOS stepped up to help those in need, the following is an overview of our recent activities in support of response and recovery to Hurricane Ian.
The National Geodetic Survey (NGS) collected aerial images in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian from September 29 to October 3. The crew flew over more than 16,322 square kilometers during 54.6 hours and collected 13,172 images. Imagery was collected in specific areas identified by NOAA and assigned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in coordination with the impacted states and other federal agencies. The NGS aerial imagery viewer for Hurricane Ian had more than 22 million hits from September 30 to October 3. NOAA's aerial imagery aids safe navigation and captures damage to coastal areas caused by a storm.
The Office of Coast Survey’s (OCS) regional navigation managers coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Army Corps of Engineers during storm preparations to evaluate and prioritize hydrographic survey requests from ports. In anticipation of the hurricane making landfall, OCS prepared assets (two vessels along with an autonomous surface vessel) in locations outside of the hurricane impact zones, so they would be ready to respond upon request. After landfall, Navigation Response Teams (NRTs) Fernandina and Stennis were mobilized to conduct surveys in Florida at Franklin Lock and Dam, Capri Pass in Naples, St Petersburg, and the entrance to the Intercoastal Waterway in Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach. The response teams reported several obstructions and found that numerous aids to navigation were missing or destroyed. An OCS hydrographic survey contractor also surveyed the entrance to Tampa Bay. Regional navigation managers and the NRTs work around the clock after a storm to speed the reopening of ports and waterways. During emergency responses, NRTs provide time-sensitive information to the USCG or port officials and transmit data to NOAA cartographers for updating OCS’s navigational charts.
The Office of Response and Restoration’s (OR&R’s) Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) activated the NOS Incident Management Team to collect information across NOS on personnel, mission, infrastructure, and response activities to support messaging up to NOAA leadership and beyond. The DPP also coordinates the cross-NOAA effort for FEMA-initiated long-term recovery missions supporting economic recovery, natural and cultural resources, community planning, and capacity building. This effort is in its very early stages. The Emergency Response Division embedded a NOAA scientific support coordinator to the USCG Area Command in Miami, Florida, to identify natural resources that would be sensitive to debris and pollution. Part of OR&R’s mission is to discover and determine the location of oil and hazmat release(s) or debris posing threats to life safety, the environment, and/or maritime transportation systems and to provide, update, and maintain data. OR&R is reviewing early imagery from Hurricane Ian to identify potential pollution sources, such as displaced vessels and containers. The extreme winds and storm surge caused widespread damage, and there are many reports of displaced, overturned, and capsized vessels. NGS aerial imagery has been added to OR&R’s online mapping tool, ERMA® (Environmental Response Management Application), which serves as a common operational picture for NOAA agencies involved in the response.
U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) partners in the Southeast provided real-time coastal and ocean information in and around the path of the hurricane. IOOS provided access to wind and wave data, ocean profiles from underwater gliders, and surface current data from its high-frequency radar network. The team working on the WebCOOS project, which gathers video from a network of webcams along the U.S. southeast coast, debuted their website as Ian approached the Carolinas to offer open access to regularly updated video data, including some live cams, from multiple sites along the coast. General hurricane resources are available on the IOOS Hurricane Season Resources page.
The Office for Coastal Management (OCM) reported that Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) and Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas NERR in Florida incurred minor damages. In South Carolina, the North Inlet Winyah Bay NERR also incurred some damages. Reserve staff are documenting impacts to facilities and equipment. The Coral Reef Conservation Program also performed checks on facilities and personal property both during and after the storm. OCM continues to share relevant information — such as NGS imagery, emerging information on windfield, and resources for recovery — with impacted local partners.
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science staff members in Charleston, South Carolina, actively checked on facilities and property both during and after the storm. The Hollings Marine Laboratory had a near 12-hour period where the backup generators were not functioning. The seawater system intake lines were probably damaged during the storm surge. The backup generator for the main building remains offline, as does one of the seawater pumps. At this time, the full extent of damage to equipment and samples is still being assessed. In addition, a lightning strike during the storm disabled the fire alarm’s main console, and facilities specialists are currently working on a replacement of the circuit board(s).
The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) activated Incident Management Reporting functions on September 26. Preparedness functions included coordinated shutdowns of all information technology equipment and the securing of vehicles, vessels, and facilities. The following sites engaged in incident preparedness functions in anticipation of a significant weather event:
ONMS vessels and facilities are available on a limited basis to provide response support, if called upon. The FKNMS Key West location experienced limited water incursion in multiple entry points, and staff are in the process of assessing potential structural damage along with impacts to the electrical system after several power surges and blackouts caused by the storm. ONMS headquarters and FKNMS facilities staff are working with NOAA’s Personal Property Management Branch and local resources to assess damage and plan restoration operations. FKNMS Key Largo, Gray’s Reef NMS and Monitor NMS reported no damage to facilities, vehicles, or vessels. Limited power outages and some tree limb damage adjacent to ONMS facilities was the extent of impacts at these sites.
A week prior to Ian’s landfall, the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS) remotely assessed all of its Gulf Coast stations in Florida for known sensor outages. No critical outages were recorded. During the storm, CO-OPS monitored water levels and other meteorological conditions in real time for affected locations via its Coastal Inundation Dashboard. This tool allows users to monitor elevated water level conditions along the coast. CO-OPS’ network of water level stations along the coast captured significant water levels at many locations, providing insight into the devastating impacts that Hurricane Ian had on the communities in its path. The water level observations are also critical for National Weather Service hurricane specialists at the National Hurricane Center who use the data for storm surge forecast validation in real-time. Record-high water levels were recorded at gauges in Naples and Cape Coral (Fort Myers). Preliminary data indicates water levels at Naples reached 6.18 feet above high tide before the station went offline, breaking the 4.25 feet record set by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Since the station was destroyed while water levels were still rising, it likely did not capture the peak water level at that location. At Cape Coral, water levels reached 7.26 feet above high tide, breaking the previous record of 3.35 feet set during Hurricane Gabrielle in 2001. As Ian made a secondary landfall in South Carolina, the station at Springmaid Pier (Myrtle Beach) reached 5.17 feet above high tide, the third highest water level on record. CO-OPS stations also measured the significant draw-down (negative storm surge) observed in Tampa Bay, Florida. Several stations observed record-low water levels, including East Bay at 5.67 feet below low tide, St. Petersburg at 3.94 feet below low tide, and Port Manatee at 2.39 feet below low tide. CO-OPS’s station at Old Port Tampa reached 2.88 feet below low tide before reaching its physical lower limit. Additional information about the water levels is provided in this story map. CO-OPS communicated real-time water level information via NOS social media regularly during the storm. CO-OPS is also conducting its post-storm infrastructure assessment. As part of these efforts, the Field Operations Division will travel to Florida to assess water level station damage, make minor repairs, and conduct stability levels. If feasible, CO-OPS will also install a temporary gauge on remaining infrastructure in Naples and tie this to the existing benchmark network.
At the HQ level, our NOS Communications and Education Division collaborated with our program offices, line offices, and NOAA Communications to ensure that our valuable information was easily available and widely shared with the public through our website and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
Steady as we go,