Hurricane Eta about to make landfall.
Hurricane Eta about to make landfall. | Credit: NOAA NESDIS

Connecting Space to Village to Reduce Flood Impacts

Lessons from Hurricanes Eta and Iota
By Betzy Hernandez Sandoval, Emil Cherrington, Kel Markert, Eric Anderson, Daniel E. Irwin, Ashutosh Limaye, Peter Epanchin, Bathsheba F. Bryant-Tarpeh

Central America’s countries are among the most vulnerable globally in terms of climate change impacts. On top of hardships worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the combination of climate hazards with mass unemployment, food insecurity and gang violence has driven thousands of migrants in northern Central America to flee their homelands. In November 2020, two back-to-back dangerous category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, struck the region, making landfall on the coast of Nicaragua, near its border with Honduras, and also affecting El Salvador and Guatemala. Altogether, they caused an estimated one billion US dollars in damage. Despite such impacts, the region was better able to prepare for and respond to Eta and Iota using space-based technologies.

Regional institutions such as CEPREDENAC and CRRH1 were able to call upon tools and platforms developed by SERVIR, a joint program of USAID and NASA, for forecasting the storms’ potential impacts and post-impact assessment. While SERVIR does not currently have a hub2 in Central America, it has a presence in South America, Africa, and Asia, where it strengthens regional and national capacity for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

HYDRAFloods, the Hydrologic Remote Sensing Analysis for Floods service, co-developed by SERVIR-Mekong3 and NASA, combines optical and radar imagery, capable of seeing through clouds, to map flood extent. CEPREDENAC used HYDRAFloods-derived flood maps, which showed widespread flooding of agricultural lands, in its impact assessments.

Complementing HYDRAFloods was the GEOGLoWS ECMWF Streamflow Hydroviewer, a river and streamflow monitoring platform developed by SERVIR-supported researcher Dr. Jim Nelson of Brigham Young University. It provides up to 15-day forecasts under multiple scenarios that pinpoint sections of rivers which are likely to flood over the next few days. Before Iota’s landfall, Dr. Nelson had calls with CEPREDENAC and CRRH to walk them through Hydroviewer forecasts. Coordination with the managers of Honduras’ El Cajon hydroelectric dam also ultimately led to the safe release of reservoir water, ultimately protecting downstream businesses and residents.

According to the heads of CEPREDENAC and CRRH, the monitoring and forecasting capabilities bolstered by the unique vantage point of space were welcome additions to their disaster management processes.

“Use of the Hydroviewer supported the region’s hydrometeorological services, especially in watersheds without real-time monitoring and hydrological models, for decision-making for river early warning systems,” said Berta Olmedo, CRRH’s Executive Secretary. She also highlighted the need for more research to improve forecast results, including tapping the expertise of the region’s hydrologists.

Claudia Herrera, CEPREDENAC’s Executive Secretary added that, “The [El Cajon] dam situation was complex, and information was needed for quickly making decisions. Had the dam burst, literally hundreds of thousands of people would have been affected. The information provided by NASA, from GEOGloWS, from HYDRAFloods, and from the other systems was essential to the timely decision-making which likely saved lives.”

The support to Central America demonstrates SERVIR’s demand-driven focus and the scalability of such services built on satellite technology. Jorge Cabrera, a Technical Advisor at the SICA General Secretariat indicated that “The coordination with CEPREDENAC, CRRH, and other SICA organizations was crucial to an effective response to Eta and Iota. We need to continue addressing these issues by building regional capacity.”

Footnotes:

  1. CEPREDENAC is the Spanish acronym for “Coordination Center for the Prevention of Disasters in Central America and the Dominican Republic,” while CRRH is a Spanish acronym for “Regional Water Resource Committee.” Both are regional institutions operating within the Central American Integration System (SICA, in Spanish).
  2. SERVIR co-develops innovative solutions through a network of regional, locally-led hubs in Asia, Africa, and the Americas to improve the capacity to develop local solutions and to improve livelihoods. SERVIR has hubs in Amazonia, West Africa, Eastern & Southern Africa, the Hindu Kush Himalayas, and the Mekong.
  3. SERVIR-Mekong is implemented by a consortium, including the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), Spatial Informatics Group (SIG), Deltares, and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
Projects
SERVIR
Strategic Objective
Adaptation
Topics
Climate Risk Management, Disaster Risk Management, Infrastructure, Vulnerability Assessment, Partnership
Region
Latin America & Caribbean
Betzy Hernandez Sandoval Headshot

Betzy Hernandez Sandoval

Betzy Hernandez Sandoval serves as the Associate Program Manager for the AmeriGEO and Human Planet projects within NASA’s Earth Science Division’s Applied Sciences Capacity Building Program. She also serves as the Capacity Building lead within the SERVIR Science Coordination Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Among other activities, she helps to support activities related to the implementation of the NASA-SICA Joint Statement. Previously, she worked at the SERVIR-Mesoamerica hub.

Emil Cherrington Headshot

Emil Cherrington

Dr. Emil Cherrington serves as the SERVIR Science Coordination Office’s Regional Science Coordination Lead for West Africa, and thematic support for land cover, land use, and ecosystems. He previously worked at the SERVIR-Mesoamerica hub and has helped provide coordination support during the response to Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

Kel Markert Headshot

Kel Markert

Kel Markert is a research scientist with the SERVIR Science Coordination Office (SCO) at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and he has served as the water thematic lead at the SCO. He is the lead developer of the HYDRAFloods algorithm, and provided support for the Eta and Iota response.

Eric Anderson Headshot

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is the Associate Chief Scientist with the SERVIR Science Coordination Office (SCO) at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Disaster Thematic Service Area Lead. His experiences lies in GIS and remote sensing for applied Earth and environmental science, including hazards.

Daniel E. Irwin Headshot

Daniel E. Irwin

Daniel E. Irwin is a research scientist at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the Global Program Manager for SERVIR—a flagship NASA and US Agency for International Development (USAID) program with activities in over 50 countries throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, West Africa, the Hindu Kush Himalaya, lower Mekong, and Amazonia regions. He has over 25 years of experience in satellite remote sensing applications and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the developing world. He also served as a lead remote sensing specialist in support of NASA’s space archeology program, with a focus on detecting structures of the ancient Maya. Prior to joining NASA, Daniel lived and worked in Guatemala, developing leading GIS laboratories for conservation organizations and the Guatemalan government.

Ashutosh Limaye Headshot

Ashutosh Limaye

Dr. Ashutosh Limaye’s interests include hydrologic modeling, soil moisture remote sensing, and agricultural productivity assessments. He leads the global science portfolio for SERVIR.

Peter Epanchin Headshot

Peter Epanchin

Dr. Peter Epanchin is a Senior Climate Adaptation and Resilience Advisor with U.S. Agency for International Development's Bureau for Resilience and Food Security. He provides strategic and technical input on climate adaptation programming and he provides support on strengthening adaptive capacities to address climate change, hydro-climatic disasters, food security, and land use and natural resource management. Previously, Pete worked on climate change at the Environmental Protection Agency and has been a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Pete received his Ph.D. in ecology from UC Davis.

Bathsheba F. Bryant-Tarpeh Headshot

Bathsheba F. Bryant-Tarpeh

Dr. Bathsheba F. Bryant-Tarpeh is a Country Support Officer with U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security. She provides support for food security, nutrition, WASH, climate and resilience programs to USAID Missions in Africa, Asia, E&E, LAC, and the Middle East regions. Previously, she was a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and later Senior Advisor with the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of International Relations. She holds a Ph.D. in African Studies from Howard University. During graduate school, she was a U.S. Borlaug Global Food Security Fellow (2016-2017), a USAID Feed the Future Leadership Program.

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