Buoys in Long Island Sound Measured Sandy's Significant Wind Speed and Direction

UConn's observation system collects data that can foretell disaster.

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UConn's buoys in Long Island Sound gather data such as water currents and wind speed.
Photo:UConn Department of Marine Sciences
Interview with James O'Donnell
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Interview with James O'Donnell

Hours before Connecticut started to feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy, a network of buoys in Long Island Sound were measuring the wind speed and potential storm surge. Joining us by phone is James O'Donnell, a marine sciences and physics professor at UConn's Avery Point campus, and oversees the Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observing System. LISICOS operates four buoys throughout the Sound, all providing data to the NOAA forecasting system in real time, about every 15 minutes.

"All of the meterological information - wind, air pressure, temperature - that goes directly to the National Weather Service, and then the public uses it," O'Donnell says. "Frequently, our website is used by sailors and vacationers to plan their trips. The real value, in terms of who pays for it, is for the weather service, and then for the states and the EPA who are concerned about water quality."

During the storm, O'Donnell was monitoring the system from home until he lost power. "I realized pretty quickly that it was going to be pretty bad news, especially for the western Sound," he says. "The persistent winds from the northeast are dangerous in that they set up the sea level in the western part of the Sound much more effectively than winds from any other direction. Most hurricanes blow through on a north-south track, and they pass by quite quickly. But this storm, because it headed to the west, towards New Jersey, led to persistent high wind speeds from the northeast for something like 24 or 36 hours, and that allows the Sound's western sea levels to increase."