Drones Document the Devastation of Hurricane Nicole

New drone footage of Hurricane Nicole’s devastating impact in Florida is raising public awareness of the growing threat that these storms are posing to residents of small coastal towns.  The hurricane started as a tropical storm and was not expected to cause severe damage.  In fact, it came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane compared to September’s Hurricane Ian, which was category 4.  But disaster specialists underestimated the likely combined effect of the two events.  Ian not only devastated homes and properties, it weakened the sand and soil supporting beach properties all along Florida’s vulnerable coast.  As a result, Nicole has caused new and massive unexpected damage.

Drone footage shot by private drone operators or by local news media and now circulating online has documented this damage.  Experts say it will give disaster specialists a better understanding of the new threat posed by extreme weather events that occur within weeks or even days of each other.  It will also allow many homeowner victims to identify their affected properties and to assess the damage and the prospects for entering them safely.  In many cases, their road access to the area is blocked and drone footage is the only evidence available of the effects of the storm.

Some of the latest drone footage is truly shocking.  At Daytona Beach, Nicole caused a crumbling of the coastal beachside and some homes have begun falling into the ocean.   A 4-minute video shot by Brandon Clement from WxChasing, has provided unprecedented footage of the events.  There’s a gaping hole in the coast line and most of several former beachfront properties are gone, the remains barely resembling homes.  Roofs are stacked up on sand dunes.  Remnants of walls and broken furniture are strewn about everywhere.

The devastation isn’t over.  As with earthquakes, damaged areas can leave partially damaged structures that collapse days later, posing a threat to local residents and rescue workers.  Drone footage is critical for identifying obstacles to emergency relief, storm damage assessment, and wreckage removal teams.  One lesson that is likely to emerge from Ian and Nicole is the need for local governments to deploy their own standing drone capability or to allow private forms to bid on contracts for ongoing drone surveillance of vulnerable coastlines and beachsides.  Drones can allow for more comprehensive documentation of these storms.  They can enhance storm preparation planning, improve the targeting and timing of emergency response, and even days later, allow public authorities to better assess the damage and the continuing threat to human life.

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