(WVUE) - New technology promises an early warning for emergency planners - and anyone with an Internet connection - the next time a hurricane threatens areas on the western shores of Lake Pontchartrain.
NOAA's National Ocean Service and National Weather Service have teamed to install real-time sensors that measure current conditions and water levels.
"Not having real-time data during a storm doesn't allow us to make the best decisions," said St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom, pointing out Hurricane Isaac in 2012 exposed the parish's vulnerability to storm surge.
The $150,000 sensors could help emergency managers and the public avoid getting blindsided by a storm in the way that Isaac caught St. John and nearby areas by surprise. One sensor at Frenier Landing in Laplace measures temperature, humidity, wind, rain and pressure. The other on the I-10 bridge over the Bonnet Carre Spillway provides up-to-the-minute data on water levels. Both sensors are designed to survive a storm packing 100 mph winds.
"Data is the underlying, fundamental foundation for almost everything we do," said Kenneth Graham, Meteorologist-in-Charge of the New Orleans/Baton Rouge forecast office in Slidell.
"This is another way to get important data in Lake Pontchartrain."
The Bonnet Carre device employs a microwave sensor that shoots a beam at the lake to measure water levels. That means no moving parts in the water, cutting down on maintenance requirements. Since the sensor itself sits above the water line, Graham said it is also designed to survive and continue transmitting data during a tropical event.
"Most people are not aware that St. John the Baptist Parish has no levee protection against the lake," Robottom said.
In the aftermath of Isaac's devastating flooding, Robottom said officials became immediately aware of the need for earlier warning about lake levels. Officials say over time, the sensors will provide historical data that could prove useful in measuring sea level rise.
The real-time data can be accessed at through NOAA's tides and currents website.