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Weathering the Storm

States describe strategies for managing Hurricane Ida’s effects on infrastructure.

When Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in August 2021, extensive flooding and wind damage caused hundreds of road closures from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Ida then moved inland and brought flash floods and tornadoes to parts of the Northeastern United States.

The first session of FHWA’s new Road Weather Spotlight monthly webinar series focused on Hurricane Ida’s effects on the transportation network and weather-responsive management strategies (WRMS). Presentations by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LADOTD), the Pennsylvania DOT (PennDOT), and the New Jersey DOT (NJDOT) as well as the National Weather Service (NWS) described the strategies used to mitigate storm damage and accelerate the recovery process.


Hurricanes can change quickly in intensity as they move through the Gulf of Mexico, so the LADOTD modifies preparations to adapt to those changes as the storms move closer. In Ida’s case, its late strengthening resulted in officials ordering evacuations in several areas, so LADOTD used dynamic message signs and public service announcements to notify travelers of alternate routes.

David Miller, LADOTD’s chief maintenance engineer, said Ida was on track to hit the State’s two largest cities, so the agency requested aid from districts in other parts of the State to support the large response effort. They were also able to bring in signal and sign repair personnel from the Texas DOT.

Once Ida’s winds subsided, the LADOTD began clearing more than 11,500 shoulder miles of mud and debris. The agency used crowdsourced data to populate its debris operations dashboard, conserving staff resources by allowing the public to input debris locations and type.

excavator clearing roadside and tractor dumping debris into dump truck

Louisiana’s debris operations dashboard allowed residents to report locations for roadway debris removal.

Credit: Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development


As the flooding and tornadoes of Ida arrived in Pennsylvania, PennDOT kept traveler information such as road closures and weather advisories up-to-date on its 511PA.com website.

a flooded section of Interstate Highway

After Ida resulted in a river flooding onto a portion of interstate in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania DOT was able to quickly contract with a private company to remove 30 million gallons of water.

Credit: ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Dan Whetzel, PennDOT’s section chief for emergency incident management, reported that Ida caused the Schuylkill River to overrun its banks onto Interstate 676, which runs below ground at a point in downtown Philadelphia. Once the river receded, it left PennDOT with about 30 million gallons of water on the interstate.

“With the pumps we typically use, it would have taken 20 or more days to pump that much water out,” he said, “so we worked through our command structure and found a company working in the Marcellus Shale area that could bring multiple pumps. They were able to pump the 30 million gallons of water back into the Schuylkill River in a day and a half.”

Although the company had not worked for PennDOT before, it was able to mobilize and begin pumping within 24 hours. Whetzel said that having executive staff at a centrally located command center during the storm helped streamline the response to this and other challenges.

New Jersey

When Ida moved into New Jersey, it brought 11 inches of rain in about 6 hours, as well as an EF-3 tornado. Chris Feinthel, NJDOT’s senior director of operations, said that the agency activated its 511 NJConnect system six times during Ida, directly communicating with motorists stuck on its road networks.

Following the storm, one challenge was removing the hundreds of abandoned vehicles on roadways. The agency has partnerships with the state police and various towing contractors throughout New Jersey, and Feinthel said that the towing contractors ended up being some of their busiest vendors. “There were cars everywhere that we had to at least get to the shoulder. We worked with local and state police to move them safely off the roadway so we could start to go to work ourselves,” he said.

asphalt road, severely damaged from flooding and marked with orange safety cones

Flooding from Hurricane Ida damaged roadways in New Jersey.

Credit: New Jersey Department of Transportation

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service (NWS) provides data to different DOTs ahead of and during severe weather events. Roham Abtahi explained that for hurricanes, coordination originates from the National Hurricane Center and then through the field offices to the DOTs.

“We’ve got 122 field offices across the country,” said Abtahi. “Some areas have several offices, so in some cases, you may want to coordinate with our regional operations centers. They can bring all the information together and condense it during an event like Ida where you wouldn’t want to be dealing with several different offices as a storm moves in.”

He also described the Pathfinder program, which encourages the DOTs, NWS, and weather service contractors to share and translate weather forecasts and road conditions into consistent, actionable transportation messages for the public. “At these meetings, we try to facilitate a better relationship between the DOTs and the National Weather Service,” said Abthai, “so that when a big event happens, you can work closely with the person who is able to serve you.”

Tony Coventry, transportation specialist for FHWA’s Road Weather Management Program, said that while WRMS tools and Pathfinder are often associated with winter operations, they can greatly benefit preparations and response to any severe weather event, including hurricanes, wildfires, and even dust storms.

“While severe weather presents numerous challenges to our roadways,” said Coventry, “agencies can use WRMS to mitigate its impacts through preparation efforts that leave them better equipped to overcome whatever impacts occur on our Nation’s infrastructure.”


Watch the video recording of the Road Weather Spotlight webinar on Hurricane Ida.

Sign up for future Road Weather Spotlight webinars.

Read a fact sheet on Pathfinder implementation.

Contact David Johnson or Tony Coventry of FHWA’s Road Weather Management Program.

Notice: The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this article only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Recommended Citation: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration - Washington, DC (2022) Innovator Newsletter, July/August 2022, Volume 16 (91). https://doi.org/10.21949/1521845