USGS storm surge sensors cataloged high water from Sandy

By on November 28, 2012

In an effort to measure the rising sea water brought on by Hurricane Sandy, U.S. Geological Survey workers placed more than 150 storm surge sensors along the East Coast. Crews finished installing sensors the morning before Sandy came ashore and recovered the instruments immediately following Sandy’s thrashing.

“We have recovered all the sensors,” said Brian McCallum, assistant director of the USGS Georgia Water Science Center and one of the coordinators of the storm surge sensor installation. “We did lose a few here and there because of the destruction.”

Data from the storm surge sensors showed that waters around New York City and New Jersey surged the most. The tallest storm surge detected so far was an 18.98-foot high water mark in Long Branch, N.J, McCallum said.

A sensor at Cottonville Beach, N.Y. on Staten Island recorded a nearly 16-foot surge. Many areas of New York City in Manhattan and Long Island saw between 10 and 11 feet of water.

Storm surge mainly affected the coasts, but it did have some effects inland on the Hudson River.  “We actually measured high water marks all the way up to Albany, N.Y.,” McCallum said.

McCallum said water in the Hudson River was approximately six feet higher than normal near Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Storm surge heights were lower north and south of New York and New Jersey. Water levels rose one to two feet in Massachusetts and two to three feet in Virginia. Data from all the sensors is cataloged on the USGS’ interactive Hurricane Sandy Storm Tide Mapper. USGS teams are also monitoring water quality from more than 400 real-time gauges in an effort to boost public safety.

Hurricane Sandy was considered a weak hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.  It was a category one, classified by winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour.

Sandy’s area, though, was considerably large.  Sandy’s field of wind exceeding 40 miles per hour stretched more than 900 miles across the East Coast.  A field of wind with the same speed stretched about a third of that distance during Hurricane Katrina, a category three storm that devastated New Orleans, according to NASA.

McCallum said that recovery of the sensors went well.  The team dealt with gas and hotel room shortages in damaged areas of New York and New Jersey.  He said he was thankful for the help of USGS ground crews and local citizens.  “In the midst of all the destruction and all, the local citizens were very understanding and generous,” McCallum said.

Finalized USGS storm surge data is still being tabulated and should be available in early 2013.

Image: Hurricane Sandy approaching the U.S. East Coast, as captured by the GOES-13 satellite (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Robert Simmon)

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