SACO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Weather organizations met in Saco Tuesday morning to test a new tide gauge at Camp Ellis during king tide.
King tide is an astronomically high tide. During storms, Camp Ellis often faces flooding and subsequent erosion during high tides.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS) partnered to get the gauge funded and installed. Before the gauge was installed in April, meteorologists, emergency management coordinators and citizens had to rely on data from a gauge in Portland, which prevented people from evacuating in time.
"It changes so rapidly around here that, sometimes, we're getting a call when it's too late to get in here and get people out," said Steve Boucouvalas, emergency management director for the city of Saco.
The tide gauge measures how high the water level is using two methods: radar, which uses a radio-frequency transmission to measure the distance to the water surface; and a pressure system that utilizes a sensor attached to a pressurized line. Once this pressurized line is submerged, the sensor determines the water pressure above the line, which is then converted to water height.
This system serves as a backup to the radar sensor, according to the USGS and NERACOOS.
"This is paramount to safety," Boucouvalas said.
Saco resident Richard Milliard has seen the damage of storm flooding and erosion firsthand. He said over 120 years, the city has lost 400 feet of beach.
"People who live down here at the point actually have evacuation plans," Milliard said. "Consider how difficult it would be to get out of here with a foot of snow, two feet of water, in the middle of the winter."
He said this gauge can help meteorologists issue more precise warnings, and hopefully provide evidence to gain federal funds to build structures that will mitigate the impact of storm waves.
The USGS said there are six of these types of tide gauges across the state, and aboug 75 river gauges statewide.