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Hurricane Preparedness and Response

NOAA Ocean Podcast: Episode 74

Hurricanes are powerful storms that can threaten life and property. We revisit an episode with our podcast hosts as they discuss the roles of the National Ocean Service in hurricane preparedness, response, and recovery and how you can prepare for this year’s hurricane season.

A satellite image of 2017's Hurricane Irma from NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

A satellite image of 2017's Hurricane Irma from NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.


HOST: This is the NOAA Ocean Podcast, I’m Marissa Anderson. As we approach the upcoming hurricane season, we wanted to revisit one of our previous episodes on hurricane response and preparedness. In this discussion, our hosts Megan Forbes and Troy Kitch share things you can do now to prepare and explore how the National Ocean Service responds to hurricanes. Let’s dive right in…

FORBES: Being prepared for impacts can go a long way toward feeling ready for whatever a hurricane may bring. Here are a few easy things you can do to be prepared for this season:

Make a hurricane plan - know where to go if you are ordered to evacuate. Put together a go-bag or disaster supply kit, make an emergency communication plan, sign up for emergency text or email alerts, and prepare your home and property ahead of time. Guidance for all of these steps and more can be found at ready.gov/hurricanes.

Now that we’ve covered that let’s talk a bit about what NOAA’s Ocean Service does in hurricane response before hurricanes hit, when they hit, and long after the storms pass. Here’s NOAA Ocean’s Troy Kitch with the details:

KITCH: One critical service the NOS provides is near real-time ocean and weather observations at locations affected by tropical storms from the National Water Level Observation Network. This network is made up over 200 stations around the country that continuously monitor water levels. During coastal storms, water levels can rise to flood levels. So it’s of course good to know and predict how high these water levels are going to get.

NOAA’s National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON) station in Kiptopeke, Virginia

NOAA’s National Water Level Observation Network (NWLON) station in Kiptopeke, Virginia uses a system of sensors to measure changing water levels.

HOST: The Coastal Inundation Dashboard delivers real-time water level information at locations across the Nation through the lens of coastal flooding. During a hurricane or tropical storm that threatens the U.S., a storm-specific custom dashboard is created to highlight how coastal water levels are responding to the storm.

During a storm, water levels shown on the Coastal Inundation Dashboard can include dangerous storm surge. If you find yourself near life-threatening inundation, please follow evacuation and other safety guidance issued by the National Hurricane Center. Find links to the Hurricane Center in our show notes.

HOST: Troy goes on to tell us how the Ocean Service also is highly involved in the response to a hurricane AFTER the storm hits…

KITCH: NOS also plays a lead role in navigational surveys, aerial photography surveys, and hazardous spill response. After a hurricane strikes, emergency Navigation Response Teams help get ports and waterways back open as fast as possible. They use sonar and divers to check for obstructions and hazards to navigation. This work is critical – not only does it help get our waterways and ports flowing again so supplies can get to the people who need them in these areas, it also helps to get commerce back up and running in the region. And while these teams are out doing their work, they’re also collecting data that they’ll use to update navigational charts for the area that mariners rely on.

NOAA’s Coastal Inundation Dashboard

Custom dashboard, generated in September, 2022, shows Hurricane Ian approaching Florida’s Gulf Coast. The custom dashboard is a feature of NOAA’s Coastal Inundation Dashboard.

Next up, let’s talk about aerial surveys. Many people don’t know this, but the Ocean Service begins flying survey missions to take pictures of coastal areas hit by a hurricane just days after the storm strikes and makes the photographs available on the internet to help those most affected by the hurricane determine if their homes, businesses, and properties had been damaged or destroyed. And finally, the NOS plays a major role after a hurricane hits by responding to hazardous material spills to survey vessels, pipelines, wells, or containers that may be leaking hazardous fuel, oil, or chemicals. And they fly on missions to locate and track offshore sources of spills. This data is combined with current weather and water conditions to develop computer models to help predict spill movement and to figure out where the greatest pollution threats are likely to occur. Added to this, the office lends a hand with vessel salvage, shoreline cleanup, and helping to understand how spills will affect natural resources in the region. Scientists and economists also assess the injuries done to natural resources caused by hazardous spills, grounding and debris in the area.

So the Ocean Service plays a big role in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane, but the work doesn’t stop there. For weeks, months, and even years after a hurricane hits the shores, the work continues to better understand the effect of the hurricane, in recovery planning, and in monitoring the effects of contaminants released from the storm on the environment. Long after the storm strikes, there are many big questions that need answered: what is the economic impact of the storm? What is the ecological impact – the cost to the environment? Where is the debris concentrated? How much wetlands were lost? These products can include everything from aerial imagery of the affected region from before and after the storm, digital elevation data to measure how the coastline changed as a result of the storm, to long-term recovery plans.

This has been the NOAA Ocean Podcast. Check out our show notes to learn more about hurricanes, NOS’s role in the response efforts, and how to stay safe this season. And don’t forget to subscribe to us in your favorite podcast player so you never miss an episode.