NOAA sets up hurricane-resistant sentinel in the Gulf

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week dedicated the first of four massive hurricane-hardened stations to measure storm tides off the Gulf coast of Mississippi.

The 25-foot-tall NOAA Sentinel went into place just in time for Hurricane Gustav, now approaching the Gulf of Mexico and predicted to threaten the U.S. coast in the next several days. This is also the third anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.

The Sentinel is designed to withstand a Category 4 hurricane with winds of from 131 to 155 miles an hour and will provide real-time water level and meteorological data to help coastal authorities plan for and respond to severe storms. Data from the station and from all of NOAA's National Water Level Observation Network also is available online.

The station's instruments and communications links are mounted atop massive four-foot diameter steel posts that are driven 60 to 80 feet into the sea floor.

The first Sentinel is located off Bay St. Louis, Miss. Additional Sentinels are planned for Calcasieu Pass, Amerada Pass and Shell Beach, La. Installation is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

NOAA water level and meteorological data are key components of decision-making before, during and after major storms along coasts. The information is critical for developing vulnerability assessments, providing more accurate marine weather and flood forecasts, evacuation planning and execution, determining when to open and close locks, and facilitating the reopening of ports after storms pass.

The National Water Level Observation Network is operated by NOAA's National Ocean Service. As key sensing stations in the network, the Sentinels are hardened to ensure that data is available when needed most, during severe weather. The single-pile structure presents a minimal profile to a storm coming from any direction, which, along with its deep anchoring, helps to ensure survival. The four currently planned either re-establish stations destroyed or damaged by recent hurricanes, or fill gaps in the network. Additional Sentinels will be established as funding becomes available.

During tropical storm warnings, the NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services provides Storm QuickLook on its Tides and Currents Web site, a compilation of near real-time observations within the affected coastal areas. An overlay map of NOAA satellite imagery and National Weather Service forecast information shows storm characteristics relative to the water level measurements from the network.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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