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Hurricane Damage Assessments with Lidar

photo of hurricane damage assessments
tropical hurricane approaching the USA.Elements of this image are furnished by NASA.

Hurricanes, along with tropical storms, are the greatest weather-related threat to the Florida Keys and surrounding coastal waters, according to NOAA. With only one major highway in and out of the Keys, it takes almost two full days to evacuate the southernmost city in the continental U.S. This makes the accurate prediction of hurricanes a life-saving job, something NOAA researchers are constantly trying to improve. This article looks at the use of lidar to perform more effective hurricane damage assessments.

From an article in Photonics Online by John Oncea.

According to the Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory, NOAA relies on five methods to improve hurricane track and intensity forecasts, including the development of next-generation tropical cyclone models, collocating ocean observing instruments, improving small uncrewed aircraft systems, the development of new instruments, and flying aircraft further east to study how storms begin.

The 2024 hurricane season – running from June 1 to November 30 – is predicted to be worse than most with an 85% chance of an above-normal season, a 10% chance of a new-normal season, and a 5% chance of a below-normal season. “NOAA is forecasting a range of 17 to 25 total named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher). Of those, 8 to 13 are forecast to become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 4 to 7 major hurricanes (category 3, 4, or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). Forecasters have a 70% confidence in these ranges.”

Predicting hurricanes is critical and so, too, is rapidly assessing damage for rescue, recovery, and emergency planning after the storm hits. With that in mind, Florida Atlantic University has developed a novel technique that uses aerial imagery data and LiDAR to provide high-resolution assessments of detailed hurricane damage.

Assessing Hurricane Damage Through Field Reconnaissance

Traditionally, assessing hurricane damage was done through field reconnaissance – visually capturing and cataloging damage information on-site after the hurricane event. This approach, according to Louisiana State University, involves the following key aspects:

Surveyors physically visit the affected areas and buildings to conduct visual inspections and document the damage conditions.
Data is collected using paper and pen, taking notes, and filling out pre-made forms to record observations on the level and type of damage sustained by structures.
Rapid assessments aim to quickly gather an overall impression of the degree of damage, while detailed assessments involve more comprehensive evaluations.
While this allows surveyors to document perishable data about the building’s condition before repairs are made it does come with some limitations, including data that is not systematically categorized, geo-located, or tied directly to hazard intensity, limiting its usefulness for analysis and modeling. It also can be time consuming, labor intensive, and puts surveyors conducting on-site assessments in harm’s way.

To address these issues, field reconnaissance is increasingly being combined with remote sensing techniques like aerial imagery and LiDAR to enhance damage assessment capabilities. This integrated approach leverages the strengths of both methods for more comprehensive and efficient post-hurricane damage evaluation.

Adding Remote Sensing To Hurricane Assessment

Using a LiDAR-based system to assess hurricane damage is revolutionizing the process by enabling rapid and accurate damage assessment. Mobile LiDAR systems use laser scanners mounted on vehicles to rapidly scan and collect millions of precise 3D measurements of buildings, roads, utilities, and more, creating highly detailed 3D virtual reality models of the impacted areas.

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