An eye on Hurricane Ida’s impact through satellite data


The destruction caused by Hurricane Ida was notable for its severity and breadth, stretching from the Gulf Coast to the US Northeast, leaving a devastating toll in its wake.

How can you even begin to monitor such a storm, particularly as it unfolds? Obtaining information from the ground isn’t necessarily practical. It’s simply too dangerous to be outside, and there’s too much area to cover.

Hurricane Ida (NOAA)
Hurricane Ida (NOAA)

A better solution leverages satellite imagery, specifically synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a satellite-borne sensor that works in any weather conditions, day or night.

Our analysis below is based on SAR imagery, collected over parts of Louisiana where Hurricane ida struck a hard blow, allowing the viewer to see specific places in which flooding and damage occurred.

We created a dashboard, which you can access here, to explore our results, as of August 29, 2021, the same day that Hurricane Ida made landfall as a Category 4 storm.

The video below is a preview of the dashboard. You can select an area of interest (AOI) from the dropdown menu to move the map to that location. The indicators on the right show the counts of detections within the current map view.

The image below provides a closer look at some of the hard-hit areas along the banks of the Mississippi River, approximately 30 miles northwest of New Orleans.

St. John the Baptist, seen above, is bordered by three lakes: Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas, and Lac des Allemands.

Lac des Allemands, which sits only 5 miles southwest of the town of Killona, was inundated with water, visible below in the areas colored red.

The impact of Hurricane Ida was also felt offshore, as tanker traffic was seriously disrupted in response to the storm.

The US Gulf Coast is home to large facilities where oil, gas & petrochemicals are produced, stored and transported. Most ports along the Gulf Coast saw a decline in activity, including Port Fourchon, the land base of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP).

LOOP is one of the largest privately-owned oil terminals in the United States. It is the only port that can handle fully-laden supertankers, and now facilitates exports of crude oil after years of domestic production growth.

As of September 2, LOOP was conducting repairs sustained during the storm, and had suspended deliveries beforehand.

When will LOOP return to normal? Ursa Space measures crude oil inventories at more than 900 locations, including LOOP, which provide valuable information in times like this. Contact us for more information.

In addition, Ursa analyzed Automatic Identification System (AIS) data, provided by Spire. AIS refers to a type of transponder revealing a ship’s location and other identifying characteristics.

Our initial analysis showed a steep decline in ships at Port Fourchon when the hurricane made landfall on August 29.

While this trend wasn’t limited to Port Fourchon, as other ports in the path of the storm shut as a result, the AIS data shows where some ships might have gone instead.

The Port of Galveston, located approximately 280 miles west of Port Fourchon as the crow flies, actually saw an uptick in ship activity.

This example, showing the ability to monitor a storm, is part of an ongoing effort by Ursa Space to help emergency services, utilities and insurance companies, among others, respond faster and more efficiently to severe weather.

Other examples of our work include Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and dam collapses in Inner Mongolia.

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