An example of a USGS storm-tide sensor. (Credit: Jason Burton, USGS. Public domain.)


Reston, Va. — Storm surge, coastal erosion and inland flooding are among the most dangerous natural hazards unleashed by hurricanes, with the capacity to destroy homes and businesses, wipe out roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and profoundly alter landscapes. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has experts on these hazards, state-of-the-science computer models for forecasting them, and sophisticated equipment for monitoring actual flood and tide conditions.

Five USGS crews installed around 20 storm-tide sensors along the Texas coastline within the areas between San Luis Pass and Corpus Christi. The equipment will be installed on bridges, piers and other structures that have a good chance of surviving a storm surge during a hurricane. The equipment is housed in vented or non-vented steel pipes a few inches wide and about a foot long. The information they collect will help define the depth and duration of a storm-surge, as well as the time of its arrival and retreat. That information will help public officials assess storm damage, discern between wind and flood damage, and improve computer models used to forecast future floods.

Storm-surges are increases in ocean water levels generated at sea by extreme storms and can have devastating coastal impacts. Current tracking from National Hurricane Center shows Harvey making landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast Friday evening.

Additionally, two rapid deployment gauges were installed in the Galveston Bay area along critical roadways to provide real-time information to forecast floods and coordinate flood-response activities in the affected areas. The sensors augment a network of existing USGS streamgaging stations already in place before the storm arrives.

The public can access current conditions and critical flood information throughout Texas by using the USGS “Water On-the-Go” mobile app. The mobile-friendly website/app will allow users to quickly locate USGS gauges in Texas that measure streamflow, stream height, rainfall or lake levels so that users can get up-to-date information on water conditions near where they are located. In addition, the Texas Water Dashboard presents USGS real-time stream, lake and reservoir, precipitation and groundwater data for more than 750 USGS real-time observation stations in Texas.

The USGS studies the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms to better understand potential impacts on coastal areas. Information provided through the sensor networks provides critical data for more accurate modeling and prediction capabilities and allows for improved structure designs and response for public safety.

The USGS Streamgaging Network operates sensors that record water levels and other key pieces of information on inland rivers and streams throughout the nation. With the support of local, state, and federal agencies, the USGS uses this nationwide network to provide real-time data to the National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others.

As USGS continues to take all appropriate preparedness and response actions as Hurricane Harvey develops over the coming days, we encourage everyone to visit or for tips on creating emergency plans and putting together an emergency supply kit.

Follow @USGS_TexasFlood and @USGS_TexasRain on Twitter to get real-time streamflow and precipitation information in Texas direct to your mobile device.