New storm surge device created in Ruston

RUSTON, LA (KSLA) - One of the deadliest parts of a hurricane is its storm surge. In the past, the surge has been difficult to predict. However, some people right here in the Ark-La-Tex are working to change that.

Several areas of the Gulf Coast damaged by Hurricane Katrina suffered damage from the storm surge. Streets became lakes with white caps.  Docks had boats thrown about like toys. The destruction spanned as far as the eye could see.

After hurricane Katrina back in 2005, the United States Geological Survey office in Ruston created a program to help forecast the storm surge associated with hurricanes.

The program is called Inland Storm Tide Documentation.  As a hurricane moves closer to a coastline, the USGS remains in steady contact with the National Hurricane Center and other USGS offices obtaining continuous hurricane forecasts.

Forty-eight hours before the hurricane strikes land, the center will send out six teams to strategically place 80 sensors  directly in the path of the storm surge, ready and waiting to collect vital information.

"We can go and put them down anywhere there is an opportunity to capture storm data," said Rolland Tollett with the Ruston USGS office.

That means wherever they're needed, be it along either the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts, retrieving information never before recorded.

Setup is an easy one-step process. The deployed teams find a sturdy pole where they think the greatest storm surge impact will be, then latch the sensor on the pole and leave.

Before this program was created, water marks along the top a wall were the only way to see the height of a storm surge. While that information is useful, forecasters still never knew how fast the surge came in.

"The sensors are better able to document the peak of the storm surge," Tollett said. "We are also for the first time seeing wave height and wave action within the storm itself. We feel like now we can better than ever before document the timing the magnitude and extend of a hurricane storm surge."

After the surge passes, the recorded information will be used to create storm surge forecasts. Those forecasts can then show where the greatest surge impact will be. That information will help officials give the proper warnings to those who need to get out of the way.

FEMA can also use the data to find out the extent of the flooding and work with insurance companies on processing claims.

The USGS office has opened storm surge centers in Atlanta and Orlando to help with geographical coverage.  The centers are slowly getting more recognition for their work and are hoping to get more funding as the demand for data grows.

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