• Advancing the accuracy of hurricane storm surge forecasts

    Of the thirteen named storms so far this season, eight have been hurricanes, with five of the eight — Harvey, Irma, Jose, Lee, and Maria — reaching Category 3 or higher. Storm surge — how high ocean waters rise and where flooding occurs —  is often the greatest threat to life and property during a tropical cyclone. A single storm can devastate livelihoods and cause tens of billions of dollars in damage.

  • USGS helps four cities improve urban waterways

    This fall more than $1.5 million is being invested in improving urban lands and waters thanks to expanded USGS partnerships with Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; Gary, Indiana; and Harlem and Bronx, New York.

  • Hurricane loss model estimates damage caused by Hurricane Irma at $19 billion

    A team of researchers estimates that Hurricane Irma caused $19.4 billion in wind-related losses to Florida residents alone. The data does not cover flood losses. Of that total, $6.3 billion will be paid by insurance companies. As a result, roughly two-thirds of the losses will be borne by homeowners.

  • AI, citizen science, disaster response combine to help Hurricane Irma’s victims

    A highly unusual collaboration between information engineers at Oxford, the Zooniverse citizen science platform, and international disaster response organization Rescue Global is enabling a rapid and effective response to Hurricane Irma. The project draws on the power of the Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular people-powered research platform, to work with volunteers and crowd source the data needed to understand Irma’s path of destruction and the damage caused.

  • Drones could save lives in disaster zones

    Research from the University of South Australia has shown for the first time that drones can be used to detect human vital signs in war zones and natural disasters. The researchers have successfully trialed unmanned aerial vehicles to measure heart and respiratory rates using remote-sensing imaging systems, while hovering three meters from humans.

  • Testing bridges for safety after major hurricanes

    After Hurricane Irma hit, there was a major concern about South Florida’s bridges, mainly the ones in the Florida Keys. Would the structures be safe to cross for drivers anxious to get back home? Would relief efforts be impaired due to damage caused by massive winds? Fortunately, all forty-two bridges that connect the mainland to the Keys were inspected and declared safe by Monroe County officials. If another major hurricane like Irma hits South Florida, researchers and engineers shares an easy and cost-effective way to test a bridge for safety.

  • Examining NYC storm surge infrastructure resilience

    With the recent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria, which ravaged much of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, from which NYC infrastructure is still recovering, it has become clear that addressing threats to infrastructure is critical to keeping our communities safe, functional, and healthy. Storm surge has emerged as one of the most destructive forces on infrastructure, especially interconnected structures in cities.

  • Improving forecasts of hurricane strength

    As Hurricane Irma approached U.S. shores, researchers sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) were using air-dropped autonomous sensors to compile real-time ocean observations to help forecasters predict the strength of future tropical storms. This marked the first time a new, specialized version of the sensors—called ALAMO (Air-Launched Autonomous Micro Observer) sensors—was being used in hurricane-prediction research.

  • No internet? No problem: Improving communications during natural disasters

    Storms like Hurricane Irma and other natural disasters bring with them lots of uncertainty: where will they go, how much damage will they cause. What is certain is that no matter where they strike, natural disasters knock out power. And no power means no internet for thousands of people in affected areas. Researchers are proposing a new way of gathering and sharing information during natural disasters that does not rely on the internet.

  • Limiting warming to 1.5°C still possible

    Significant emission reductions are required if we are to achieve one of the key goals of the Paris Agreement, and limit the increase in global average temperatures to 1.5°C; scientists say. A new study, investigating the geophysical likelihood of limiting global warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C,” concluded L limiting the increase in global average temperatures above pre-industrial levels to 1.5°C, the goal of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, is not yet geophysically impossible, but likely requires more ambitious emission reductions than those pledged so far.

  • Storm surge prediction tool helps emergency managers

    When severe, life threatening weather systems bear down on residents and communities, emergency managers needed every tool available to make informed decisions regarding evacuations, emergency services, and resource staging. Back in June, as Tropical Storm Cindy was nearing the Texas and Louisiana coastlines, Texas state agencies – including the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), which operates the ferries along the Texas Gulf Coast — were using a combination of online tools and observations to closely monitor water heights since ferries, a key aspect of the state evacuation plan, can’t operate if the water rises more than four and a half feet. Unfortunately, based on their observations, it looked like they were going to have to close the ferry down.

  • 1-in-20 chance of warming causing catastrophic, or even existential, damage by 2050

    A new study evaluating models of future climate scenarios has led to the creation of the new risk categories “catastrophic” and “unknown” to characterize the range of threats posed by rapid global warming. Researchers propose that unknown risks imply existential threats to the survival of humanity. The researchers identify a one-in-20 chance of temperature increase causing catastrophic damage or worse by 2050.

  • Houston’s anything-goes business model under siege after Harvey

    Last month, Harvey destroyed or damaged about 136,000 homes in Harris County. Now the city of Houston must determine whether to rebuild or repair, how to distribute billions of dollars in federal assistance, and whether or not the essence of America’s fourth-largest city will survive. The next storm could be even more destructive — but protection means rules, and rules go against the ethos of Houston.

  • Rethinking where/whether to rebuild after Hurricanes Irma, Harvey

    Though our natural instinct is to put everything back exactly where it was before a disaster, Mark Abkowitz, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Environmental Management Studies said people need to seriously rethink where and how to rebuild. “We’re talking hurricanes now, but it could be inland flooding, tornadoes, drought, wildfires, earthquakes. The question really comes up: If we had things the way they were and they suffered the level of catastrophic impact that they did, what’s the reasoning behind putting it back exactly the way it was before?” asks Abkowitz.

  • Houston's “flood czar” says Harvey has brought the city to a decision point on flood control

    In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s record floods, the city of Houston is poised to receive billions — maybe even tens of billions — of recovery dollars in the coming years that may cover significant improvements to the city’s woefully inadequate drainage system as well as other projects to reduce flooding. Stephen Costello, Houston’s chief resilience officer, expects to play a big role in how Houston spends it Hurricane Harvey recovery dollars.