Total Water Level Data From the January and March 2018 Nor’easters for Coastal Areas of New England

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5048
Prepared in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency
By:  and 

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Abstract

During winter 2017–18 coastal areas of New England were impacted by the January 4, and March 2–4, 2018, nor’easters. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), under an interagency agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), collected total water level data (the combination of tide, storm surge, wave runup and setup, and freshwater input) using the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88) from high-water marks and continuous water-level sensors, to better understand the areal extent, timing, and impact of coastal flooding from strong storms.

During the January 4, 2018, nor’easter the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Boston, Massachusetts, tide gage recorded the highest total water level on record of 9.66 ft. During the March 2–4, 2018, nor’easter, the Boston tide gage recorded its third highest total water level on record of 9.16 ft.

After the January and March 2018 nor’easter storms, the USGS deployed field teams that identified and flagged high-water marks along the coastlines of eastern Massachusetts in January and from Portland, Maine, south to the Connecticut-New York State border in March. In preparation for the approach of the March 2018 nor’easter, the USGS deployed 35 temporary water-level sensors along the coastline of New England to collect total water level data during the storm. Total water level data were also collected at 28 tide gages and 14 coastal streamgages (affected tidally or by tidal backwater during coastal storms) in New England during both nor’easters.

Total water level elevations at 71 high-water marks collected after the January 2018 nor’easter in coastal areas of eastern Massachusetts ranged from 5.8 to 15.1 feet (ft), with an average elevation of 9.4 ft and a median elevation of 9.6 ft. Total water level elevations at 10 tide gages and 7 coastal streamgages from Portland to Cape Cod Bay ranged from 4.8 to 11.2 ft, with an average of 9.1 ft and a median of 9.6 ft. Following the March 2018 nor’easter, 111 high-water marks were collected along the New England coastline. Of the 111 high-water marks, 100 were along the eastern coastline of New England from Portland to Cape Cod and had elevations that ranged from 5.3 to 15.1 ft, with an average of 8.9 ft and a median of 8.6 ft. The remaining 11 high-water marks along the southern coastline of New England in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts had elevations that ranged from 3.1 to 7.5 ft, with an average of 4.3 ft and a median of 4.9 ft. Total water level elevations for 19 USGS temporary water-level sensors from Portland to Cape Cod Bay ranged from 6.2 to 10.4 ft, with an average of 8.4 ft and a median of 8.7 ft. Total water level elevations at 10 tide gages and 6 coastal streamgages from Portland to Cape Cod Bay ranged from 7.8 to 10.8 ft, with an average of 9.1 ft and a median of 9.2 ft.

There were 10 tide gages and 5 coastal streamgages with data from both nor’easters from Portland to Cape Cod Bay; for the January nor’easter, the average and median elevations were about 0.3 and 0.5 ft higher, respectively, than for the March nor’easter. At the 52 high-water mark locations with data for both nor’easters in Massachusetts, the average and median elevations were 0.1 and 0.4 ft higher, respectively, for the January nor’easter than for the March nor’easter.

At 10 tide gages along the coastline from Portland to Cape Cod Bay, the observed peak total water level elevations for the January nor’easter ranged from 1.6 to 3.7 ft higher than the concurrent predicted elevations, with an average of 2.8 ft and a median of 3.0 ft higher. For the March nor’easter, the observed peak total water level elevations ranged from 1.8 to 4.0 ft higher than the concurrent predicted elevations, with an average of 2.7 ft and a median of 3.0 ft higher. This is approximately the amount of storm surge that was experienced during the highest tides of the two nor’easters along the coastline from Portland to Cape Cod Bay.

Suggested Citation

Bent, G.C., and Taylor, N.J., 2020, Total water level data from the January and March 2018 nor’easters for coastal areas of New England: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5048, 47 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20205048.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • January 2018 Nor’easter
  • March 2018 Nor’easter
  • Total Water Level Data
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Quality Assurance of Survey Equipment Used To Determine Elevations of High-Water Marks From the January and March 2018 Nor’easters

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Total water level data from the January and March 2018 nor’easters for coastal areas of New England
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5048
DOI 10.3133/sir20205048
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) New England Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 47 p.; 2 Data Releases
Country United States
State Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
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