Hurricane Sandy hits home for UND geography students


Kate Menzies

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Arts & Sciences


University of North Dakota Geography faculty and students recently got to put their skills to work for a good cause -- helping the Hurricane Sandy Recovery effort.

Gregory Vandeberg, UND Department of Geography, was contacted by UND alumnus Ray Birchler on Nov. 2, requesting help assessing storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the impact it had on the Jersey shore specifically. Vandeberg's class and others in the department were asked to volunteer their time and talents to geo-reference 400 aerial photos revealing storm damage.

Geo-referencing is the process of assigning geographic information to an image. Students were able to geo-reference by determining the latitude and longitude designations for the center of each image.

These images were then used by local groups to assess damage and plan future storm recovery. Birchler, a New Jersey resident, is part of a volunteer effort to assemble and geo-reference more than 800 images of the New Jersey shore, taken within just 72 hours of the storm making contact.

The images provided to the group were taken from a helicopter by a local photographer and Jersey shore advocate, Gil Olsen. UND student volunteers from Bradley Rundquist's Environmental Remote Sensing class analyzed the photos to determine the image's geographic position, as well as the town and street names in the images.

Vandeberg supervised the effort of the student volunteers: Zach Braun, Sleepy Eye, Minn.; Ryan Domeier, Bemidji; Luke Gaugler, Dunn Center, N.D.; Tom Hutchens, Bismarck; Michael Knudson, Crookston; Bruce Muller, Menomonie, Wis.; Shawn Russell, Fernley, Nev.; Andrew Schmaus, North St. Paul; Brett Sergenian, Madison, Wis.; and Rick Thalacker, Denver.

"This was a win, win project in that we, as a department were able to help with the storm recovery using some of our geospatial skills, while at the same time, our students were given invaluable experience in working on a project such as this," said Vandeberg.

Hurricane Sandy has become the worst natural disaster ever to hit New Jersey. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the storm cut off electricity to more businesses and homes than any other storm in history. Also a state of chaos evolved in nearby New York, due to lack of subway service and blocked roadways.

If the damage from Hurricane Sandy totals $50 billion, it would make Sandy the second-costliest storm, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That storm's damage cost approximately $108 billion.