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Visualizing the Temporal and Spatial Extent of Hurricane Storm-Surge

Brian, McCallum (bemccall@usgs.gov), Ben McGee (bdmcgee@usgs.gov), Charles E. Berenbrock (ceberenb@usgs.gov), Marge Davenport (msdavenp@usgs.gov), and Robert R. Mason, Jr. (rrmason@usgs.gov)

U.S. Geological Survey Reston, Virginia

Historically, hurricane-induced storm-surge has been documented after the event through analysis of flood evidence such as structural or vegetative damage, debris piles, high- water marks, and eyewitness accounts. However, these sources rarely provide quantitative information about the timing and duration of the flooding or the sequencing of multiple overland routes by which the storm-surge waters arrived. In response to these deficiencies, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) developed and deployed an experimental storm-surge network.

As Hurricane Rita approached the Texas and Louisiana coasts in September 2005, the USGS deployed 32 water-level and 14 barometric pressure sensors to record the magnitude, extent, and timing of hurricane storm surge and coastal flooding. Sensors were located at distances ranging from a few hundred feet to approximately 30 miles inland and covered an area of approximately 4,000 square miles (http://pubs.water.usgs.gov/ds220). Of the 32 locations where water-level sensors were deployed, significant inundation occurred at 24.

Water-level data for these sites were recorded every 30 seconds from just prior to landfall early on September 24 to several days later. Utilizing these data and a geographic information system, three-dimensional surfaces, and contour maps were constructed to depict various aspects of the storm-surge. These visualization tools show the arrival of the storm surge dome as it passed over the beaches and inland areas as well as an indication of the influence of topography and landfall location on the extent, depth, and the relative speed by which storm-surge waters penetrated inland areas. The maximum elevations of the fitted data were also contoured to temporally and spatially estimate water surface elevations. Maximum water surface elevations were also subtracted from a LIDAR digital-elevation model to determine maximum water depths throughout the inundated area.

Overlaying this information on other visualizations of hurricane impact, such as beach erosion and housing damage reports, could ultimately help emergency managers and resource planners to better understand surge mechanisms; help engineers to design more robust infrastructure, and assist insurance agents in assessing and settling insurance claims.

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