Contact: Ben Sherman
NOAA News Releases 2006
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today that the Gulf Coast will have more frequently updated storm tide information this hurricane season thanks to technology upgrades being implemented to the 23 National Water Level Observation Network stations along the Gulf Coast.

The technology upgrades enable the near real time transmission of NWLON data to NOAA National Weather Service forecasters, emergency responders, mariners, the public, and other users. The upgrades will allow NWLON stations to transmit their data every six minutes over the NOAA geostationary satellites, making the data available within minutes on the internet at: Prior to the technology upgrades, NWLON stations provided data every sixty minutes.

The Gulf Coast upgrades will be completed by the end of June, and are part of a three year effort to upgrade the entire NWLON system to employ the best science and data to inform decision makers as part of the President Bush's Ocean Action Plan. NWLON is considered a national backbone under the Integrated Ocean Observing System.

"A technologically up-to-date decision support system that gives near real-time data is critically important in areas where coastal storms and flooding can seriously affect a community's public safety and economy is critically important," said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. "These upgrades to the NWLON system are just one of the many efforts NOAA is taking to improve the safety of Americans."

NOAA has also worked with state governments and other partners along the Gulf Coast to almost double its water level observing capacity in that region. NOAA now receives, analyzes and disseminates data from water level stations operated to NWLON standards by the Texas Coastal Ocean Observing Network and through the Tampa Bay and Houston Galveston Physical Oceanographic Real Time Systems.

“We are continually working to improve the delivery of information to the user community” said Michael Szabados, director of NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services. “Our users' highest priority is the need for timely, accurate, and reliable data, and nowhere is this need more evident than on the Gulf Coast when hurricanes are threatening.”

Because much of the densely populated Atlantic and Gulf coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from storm tides is tremendous. Storm tides or storm surges were a significant cause of the Gulf Coast flooding following Hurricane Katrina last August, and often are the source of more human injury and deaths as well as general flood destruction than a hurricane's winds.

Storm surge is water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide or surge, which can increase the mean water level 15 feet or more. In addition, wind driven waves add to the surge. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, particularly when the storm surge coincides with normal high tides. Having access to observed storm tide heights can improve NWS storm surge forecast accuracy, enable emergency responders to make critical evacuation decisions, and provide mariners with critical water depth information.

There are currently 187 NWLON stations along U.S. coasts today, including the Great Lakes. Water level data supports many applications such as safe marine navigation, marine boundaries, long term sea level trends, storm surge and tsunami warnings, emergency response, habitat restoration, and coastal resource management. NWLON stations are versatile platforms that can support many other oceanographic and meteorological sensors in addition to water level measurements. Many NWLON stations have been in operation for 150 years or more.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, over 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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