Improving hurricane damage assessment with new satellite technology and outreach

Recent advances in satellite technology and collaborative exchange between Forest Service researchers and state forestry agencies have given forest managers greatly improved insights into hurricane damage. 

Hurricane damage assessmentDamage assessments are crucial in the immediate wake of extreme hurricanes such as Hurricane Michael, which struck the southeastern US in late 2018. But the destruction caused by such severe storms typically restricts accessibility, and this, along with the huge scale of the impacted area, makes accurate and rapid assessments from ground observations impossible. Newly available high-frequency, high-resolution satellite technology provides a game changer for rapid forest change assessment and monitoring. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 twin satellites provide ten-meter observations at five-day intervals that can result in remarkably early and efficient damage insights. These maps can, with the help of cloud computing and some technical expertise, resolve damage to hardwood and conifer areas. Working with state and federal forestry agencies, Forest Service scientists developed repeated assessments after Hurricane Michael to refine our understanding of the damages. This collaborative effort helps improve the way storm damage can be quantified. Using a similar approach, this technology can help document forest recovery and post-storm salvage logging and the effects of multiple disturbances as part of a systematic landscape monitoring approach. 

Pictured: Damage from Hurricane Michael assessed at high resolution—purple and red areas were affected most. Damage varied across this timber production landscape, depending on forest age and structure. The background air photo shows conditions in summer of 2017; overlaid color relates vegetation change from winter 2018 to 2019. Image prepared by Bill Christie, USDA Forest Service.


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External Partners/Collaborators: Florida Forestry Service, Georgia Forestry Commission, Alabama Forestry Commission.

Contact: Steve Norman, PhD, Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center, steve.norman@usda.gov.


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