USGS discusses the impact of Hurricane Irene

Aug 30, 2011

Bill Werkheiser discussed how USGS is assessing the damage of Hurricane Irene, including data collected from storm surge sensors; sampling water quality for pesticides, E. coli, nutrients, and sediment to document water quality in areas affected by the hurricane; keeping streamgages operating, installing additional streamgages as needed, and verifying the accuracy of streamgage information.

 When hurricanes happen, crews from the USGS are among the first-responders, often working in dangerous conditions both before and after a storm hits. The information these crews collect can be found at 

How long will it take for the beaches in the hardest hit areas to recover to their pre-hurricane state?

The multiple breaches, or new inlets, cut through the Outer Banks of North Carolina (between Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet) could take weeks to months to close on their own. Some could even persist indefinitely, depending on the inlet's cross-section and the amount of water flushed through the inlet on every tide. When an inlet opened during Hurricane Isabel in 2003 near the village of Hatteras on the Outer Banks, it had to be closed by the Corps of Engineers pumping sand into its channel.

Some say Irene was the most-hyped hurricane to hit the East Coast in a long time, if not ever. Whether that's true or not, how bad was the damage in comparison to other recent big storms?

FEMA is still estimating the damages associated with Hurricane Irene but early estimates are in the neighborhood of $ 6 - 8 billion. Its generally accepted that anything exceeing $1 billion is a major disaster.  By comparison, the recent flooding across the mid-west states is estimated at $2 billion. 

Does TWC depend on government satellites for info?

TWC often uses information from the USGS streamgages which rely on satellites for real-time transmission. 

What sort of damage or negative impact caused by Irene that most people would be surprised to learn about?

Much attention was focused on impacts to coastal areas.  What is clear now is that the big story is the river and stream flooding inland from the coast, in areas like VT, NH, and inland NJ.

Was the damage in Vermont the worst of all the damage we saw? How surprising was it that Vermont was so hard-hit?

The USGS has crews evaluating the extent of flooding in VT.  They have been in the field since Sunday and will continue to measure highwater marks.  In parts of VT, the flooding is the worst on record.  Many USGS streamgage stations are setting records and the waters are still rising. 

Not about Irene, but since USGS studies this, too: Was there any interesting data or discoveries to come out of the Mineral, Va.-based earthquake last week?

The shaking was not uniform around the epicenter.  Toward the NE, the shaking was more extensive than other directions.  USGS geologists are still evaluating the seismic event.  More info is available on

What sorts of things is the USGS doing right now in the Irene aftermath? 

In coordination with FEMA, the USGS is collecting storm surge levels from NC to Maine.  Also, we are monitoring flooding and providing info to the National Weather Service and state emergency  managers to help them better mitigate the impacts from Irene and the floods.   We are also collecting and analyzing water quality samples and conducing high resolution elevation surveys to look at coastal erosion. Go to www.

It looks like we may have another hurricane headed our way. How often in the past have we had two or more hurricanes hit the East Coast in the same year?

While I can't specifically answer right now about the East Coast, as recently as 2005  there was Dennis,  Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and in 2008 there was Gustav and Ike. 

How long is "normal" for aftershocks to continue after an earthquake like the last one?

Aftershocks can extend for months, even years depending on the nature of the event, but they decline in frequency rapidly.  Learn more at

Hi Bill, were there any reported landslides or mudslides due to Hurricane Irene? I found reports of a couple landslides/mudslides in New York and one affecting a pipeline in western Massachusetts -

While the USGS issued a landslide alert for areas with significant rainfall and steep slopes, the best source of information for actual landslide events are the individual state emergency management officials..  Eastern PA, NJ, eastern NY, MA, CT, VT, NH, and ME. 

How does the amount of rainfall dumped by Hurricane Irene compare to Hurricane Isabel in 2003? Both seem to have caused more inland flooding than was anticipated based on predictions in the media.

The USGS flood response to Irene has been greater than it was following Isabel.  This is because many areas in the northeast received record rainfalls in August prior to Irene so the grounds were already saturated. 

Thanks for the good questions.  If you want to learn more about the USGS, go to our main website or call 1-888 ASK USGS. 

In This Chat
Bill Werkheiser
Bill Werkheiser is the U.S. Geological Survey Associate Director of Water Resources, and is responsible for USGS water-related research and activities needed to understand the nation’s water resources. He joined the USGS in 1986 as a project chief for water studies in Delaware and Maryland. He then served as Director of the Pennsylvania Water Science Center. Since then, he has worked in a variety of positions, including serving as Acting Associate Director for Geology, and serving on the Hazard Response Executive Committee and linking the Gulf Coast recovery team to USGS science following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mr. Werkheiser has led water resources programs and has worked with other agencies in emergency flood response in the northeastern U.S.

Mr. Werkheiser began serving as Eastern Regional Direction in January 2009, overseeing USGS science in the 26 states east of the Mississippi River, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before joining the USGS, he worked for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
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