Predicting and Assessing Coastal Storm Damage through Remote Sensing

When Hurricane Katrina pounded ashore on August 29, 2005, causing excess flooding and destruction along the central Gulf Coast of the United States, the storm also presented coastal research scientists with a unique learning opportunity. By studying Hurricane Katrina’s impact profile, scientists, as well as emergency managers, were able to refine prediction models, engineer stronger coastal infrastructure, and facilitated more efficient hurricane emergency management strategies.

“The Role of Remote Sensing in Predicting and Assessing Coastal Storm Impacts” appears in the November 2009 issue (VOL. 25, NO. 6) of the Journal of Coastal Research. In the article, Victor V. Klemas discusses a variety of remote sensing systems and how the proper ones must be chosen to collect specific data necessary to track a hurricane, predict its future behavior, and survey the destruction it has caused.

Aircraft and satellite technology are some examples of remote sensing techniques that can track hurricanes at frequent intervals using thermal infrared, visible, and radar sensors. The hurricane hunter aircraft, an unmanned remote sensing tool, can track a hurricane’s eye and boundary layer for up to 17 hours in wind gusts measuring 65 miles per hour from as low as 100 yards above the ocean surface. When the storm nears land, satellite and land-based National Weather Service Doppler radars measure wind speed and direction, ocean currents, waves, and precipitation.

High-resolution multispectral imagers and radar on various aircraft and satellites can detect change of land cover. Satellite imagery can be used to evaluate damage and changes caused by the storm, including monitoring storm-surge flooding and showing changes in wetlands and surrounding areas.

Satellite images, airplanes, and shore-based radar were among the tools scientists used to forecast Katrina. The storm’s path, strength, surge level, and landfall location were accurately predicted, but these warnings were not heeded.

With more than half the U.S. population living in coastal zones, and that number continuing to grow, predicting which areas will be affected by storm surge flooding and other damage is vital to the safety of these residents. This article shows that real-time information provided by remote sensing tools through the peak of a storm, can substantially assist in the monitoring of coastal storm catastrophes and aid in the implementation of vital rescue operations.

The full text of this article, “The Role of Remote Sensing in Predicting and Assessing Coastal Storm Impacts,” Journal of Coastal Research, Vol. 25, No. 6, November 2009 is available at