By Alex Wilson Key West Citizen July 29, 2019

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released an old tool with a new trick that could help Keys residents prepare for tropical cyclones or even determine whether they should evacuate or not.

NOAA’s new “Coastal Inundation Dashboard” provides real-time services such as storm surge watches and warnings, coastal flood watches and warnings, tropical cyclone system tracking and intensity forecasts, sea level rise predictions and minor flood level inundation mapping; all tools that can be used by Keys residents to determine how they will be affected in the case of a tropical cyclone. While these tools are fairly new, the dashboard itself has been around for a while.

“The inundation dashboard, in and of itself, has been around for several years,” explained Louis Licate, navigation manager for NOAA, who added that the original use of the tool was to gauge the impact of rising sea levels and measure current water levels. “Before this year, it was never used in the context of hurricane preparation, that’s new for this hurricane season. The first time the hurricane portion [of the dashboard] was used was during Tropical Storm Barry.”

In addition to the aforementioned services, the dashboard also provides more data-driven information, such as sea level rise trends, water level/tidal data, graphs documenting flood events from the past and meteorological data including air temperature and barometric pressure.

When accessing the map, users can find two different markers for the two National Ocean Service stations in the Florida Keys, one in Key West and one on Vaca Key, as well as any number of NOS stations throughout the coastal U.S. Licate said these two stations are permanent, but NOAA may occasionally establish temporary coastal monitoring stations for additional research.

“There will be temporary stations that will be established statewide, such as some in Tampa. These will be three-month stations, and will gather additional data. The ones that are on the dashboard right now are permanent.”

Licate added that there aren’t any immediate plans to place additional stations in the Keys, since the two that are already established provide good data. However, in case of a major storm event, Licate said teams may be sent to the Keys.

While the tool provides large amounts of data for researchers, Licate emphasized that one of the main goals of the tool is to prepare people in case of major storm events.

“The whole goal that we’re trying to get out of this is to help people understand what the impact might be to them during a storm,” said Licate.

During a tracked storm, the tool can use various sets of data to predict both the extent of flooding, as well as the distance. However, since “three feet above sea level” might not mean much to the layperson, Licate also promoted one of the dashboard’s features that documents historical flood levels.

“One of the things we are really trying to push people to look at when they have the opportunity is to check out the top 10 water levels in your area,” said Licate. “The actual number may not really have meaning to people. We want them to think ‘Oh, in Hurricane Wilma, the water was up to the gas station or the neighbor’s house down the street.’”

Licate also said that while the dashboard may eventually be updated with new or more extensive features, that will have to wait until after the current hurricane season ends.

“Any updates we’re going to make, we’re going to wait until the end of hurricane season,” said Licate.

To access the Inundation Dashboard, visit https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/inundationdb/. During a tracked storm, users can add the name of the storm following the last slash.

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