Batten Down the Hatches

E-mail Melanie Martella

Welcome to June 1, official start date of the yearly hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) has already issued advisories on tropical depression Alvin and tropical storm Barbara. The bad news is that the NHC is predicting a 75% probability of an above normal Atlantic hurricane season, with from 13 to 17 named storms and 3 to 5 major hurricanes predicted. The good news is that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is better equipped to monitor conditions than ever before.

Watching the Weather
According to "USGS Has Science That Weathers the Storm", the USGS has beefed up its fixed stream gauges along the Gulf Coast and will be using mobile stream gauges to target streams where flooding may occur. These devices are used to collect and relay information on water level and water flow rates to give a clear picture of what the water is doing to those with a pressing need to know—forecasters, emergency managers, and dam and levee operators.

Not only is the USGS increasing its real-time water monitoring, it'll be establishing an emergency satellite DA and dissemination station in South Dakota. This will act as a backup to the main data acquisition center on Wallops Island, VA. It's upping its satellite imagery access by expanding the International Charter which gives emergency response satellite data free to those affected by disasters and it's established the Geospatial Information Response Team (GIRT) to coordinate the geospatial information required by emergency responders. Finally, it has created the Science Response Vehicle, a mobile lab and communication center capable of providing communications when other sources fail and geoaddressing of 911 calls and critical infrastructure (dams, levees, pumping stations, etc.). The USGS is collaborating with the US Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service, and other agencies to get these systems in place.

Learning from Failure
It's a truism that you learn from your failures—hurricanes Katrina and Rita exposed a lot of holes in how we get (and share) information in a rapidly changing and unstable situation. While I fervently hope that we are not so tested again, I do know that the combination of increased monitoring and greater emphasis on effective and timely data sharing (and use of mobile and redundant systems) gives us the best chance of weathering the coming storms.