Storm Stories: Communicating Hurricane Impacts using Monitoring Data and Visualizations

  • NCNERR SWMP station during Hurricane Florence (photo: Brandon Puckett)

    NCNERR SWMP station during Hurricane Florence (photo: Brandon Puckett)

In the Southeast United States and Caribbean, recent hurricanes including Dorian, Michael, Florence, Maria, Irma, and Matthew have caused significant impacts to coastal communities, harming people, property, and sensitive environments. These storms have grown more extreme and frequent since 2016 and climate projections suggest that this trend will likely worsen in coming years. The ability to quickly communicate local environmental changes in the aftermath of hurricanes can help impacted communities better understand storm events and support recovery. The National Estuarine Research Reserve System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) continuously captures water quality and meteorological data before, during, and after storms at six reserves within the Southeast and Caribbean. This project will create post-hurricane communications templates that use SWMP data to illustrate storm impacts and connect communities to science. To tell the story of local storm impacts, “Storm Summary” templates will include pictures, hurricane path maps, SWMP data analyses, and visualizations. They will offer a new and timely communication tool to educators in coastal communities that have experienced a hurricane, fisheries and land managers seeking to interpret negative environmental changes following extreme storms (such as fish kills or an increase in invasive vegetation), and local decision makers guiding post-storm recovery. These templates enable reserves to produce communications products rapidly, consistently, and offsite immediately following storms.

The Reserve system's coordinated monitoring is already in place in the region and is positioned to provide data on short-term variability and long-term trends related to hurricane impacts. Storms affect water quality in estuarine and coastal systems due to changes in salinity, turbidity, and temperature, and stormwater runoff that carries nutrients, sediments, and contaminants. This project builds off of past work within the reserve system to use these data to visualize and interpret hurricane impacts on water quality. It will bring data-driven stories to general audiences and expand the capacity of reserves to engage with heightened interest and concern in impacted communities in the wake of hurricanes and storm events. The communications tools developed here may also help reserves use SWMP data to tell the story of other extreme events such as floods or contaminant spills.

Project Lead Kaitlyn Dietz (Guana Tolomato Matanzas NERR) gives a 5-minute introduction to "Storm Stories: Communicating Hurricane Impacts using Monitoring Data and Visualizations." The presentation was given during a project team workshop in July 2021.