Storm surge is the unusual rise of water that happens during a big tropical storm. When the water rises, dangerous flooding can happen near the coast.
Storm surge happens because water gets pushed toward the shore by the force and pressure of a big storm. It’s hard to predict exactly how big a storm surge will be because it depends on so many things.
It’s affected by the intensity of the storm, forward speed, size, angle of approach to the coast, pressure, and the shape of the coastline. The rising water level during a stormsurgecan also affect rivers and streams that empty in the ocean.
The surge of water can travel far upstream, causing flooding far from the ocean. Since 2014, NOAA’s National Hurricane Center has issued a Potential StormS urge Flooding Map for areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States at risk of storm surge from a tropical cyclone.
Storm surge is water from the ocean that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the hurricane. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides and can increase the water level by 30 feet or more.
As the waters move inland, rivers and lakes may be affected, and add to the rising flood levels. Storm surge is a dangerous event during a hurricane, where furious winds are driving deadly flows of water from our seas to our shores.
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Storm Surge Overview Contents Introduction Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. In the past, large death tolls have resulted from the rise of the ocean associated with many of the major hurricanes that have made landfall.
At least 1500 persons lost their lives during Katrina and many of those deaths occurred directly, or indirectly, as a result of storm surge. The impact on surge of the low pressure associated with intense storms is minimal in comparison to the water being forced toward the shore by the wind.
Storm surge is a very complex phenomenon because it is sensitive to the slightest changes in storm intensity, forward speed, size (radius of maximum Windsor), angle of approach to the coast, central pressure (minimal contribution in comparison to the wind), and the shape and characteristics of coastal features such as bays and estuaries. Click on Image to Play Video Other factors which can impact storm surge are the width and slope of the continental shelf.
The two elements work together to increase the impact on land because the surge makes it possible for waves to extend inland. Although elevated, this house in North Carolina could not withstand the 15 ft (4.5 m) of storm surge that came with Hurricane Floyd (1999) Additionally, currents created by tides combine with the waves to severely erode beaches and coastal highways.
Buildings that survive hurricane winds can be damaged if their foundations are undermined and weakened by erosion. In estuaries and bayous, salt water intrusion endangers the public health, kills vegetation, and can send animals, such as snakes and alligators, fleeing from flooded areas.
Damaged boats in a marina Notable Surge Events Ike 2008 (SLOSH Historical Run) Hurricane Ike made landfall near the north end of Galveston Island as a Category 2 hurricane. Storm surges of 15-20 feet above normal tide levels occurred along the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas and in much of the Galveston Bay Area.
Storm surge values of more than 8 feet flooded rivers that flowed into the bay across Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. Isabel was the most intense hurricane of the 2003 season and directly resulted in 17 deaths and more than $3 billion in damages. Hugo was responsible for 60 deaths and $7 billion in damages, with the highest storm surge estimated at 19.8 feet at Romain Retreat, South Carolina.
Camille 1969 (SLOSH Historical Run) Camille was a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum winds of more than 155 mph and storm surge flooding of 24 feet that devastated the Mississippi coast. Galveston 1900 (SLOSH Historical Run) At least 8,000 people died when hurricane storm tides (the surge plus the astronomical tide) of 8-15 feet inundated most of the island city of Galveston, TX and adjacent areas on the mainland.
Surge Vulnerability Facts From 1990-2008, population density increased by 32% in Gulf coastal counties, 17% in the Atlantic coastal counties, and 16% in Hawaii (U.S. Census Bureau 2010) Much of the United States' densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level Over half of the Nation's economic productivity is located within coastal zones 72% of ports, 27% of major roads, and 9% of rail lines within the Gulf Coast region are at or below 4 ft elevation (CCSP, SAP 4-7) A storm surge of 23 ft has the ability to inundate 67% of interstates, 57% of arterial, almost half of rail miles, 29 airports, and virtually all ports in the Gulf Coast area (CCSP SAP 4-7) Hurricane Laura is forecast to bring an “survivable” surge of up to 20 feet of water to parts of coastal Louisiana and Texas.
Before the cyclone even makes landfall, forecasters expect a dangerous flood of ocean water. “Little time remains to protect life and property before water levels begin to rise and winds increase in the warning areas,” the National Hurricane Center tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.
The NHC forecast warned that an “survivable storm surge with large and destructive waves will cause catastrophic damage from Sea Rim State Park, Texas, to Intracoastal City, Louisiana.” The NHC has issued a storm surge warning for the coast from Freeport, Texas, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, indicating that forecasters anticipate a life-threatening surge of water there.
“This surge could penetrate up to 40 miles inland from the immediate coastline, and flood waters will not fully recede for several days after the storm, ” the forecasters wrote. While hurricane-force winds can rip roofs off of homes and take down trees and power lines, the surge of ocean water rushing inland often causes more damage.
Storm surge often arrives before a hurricane's winds, closing off roads, cutting evacuation routes, and leaving people stranded in flood zones. Surges can also continue after the storm's center passes, preventing emergency responders from reaching flooded areas.
The Saffir-Simpson scale, which ranks hurricanes in categories 1 through 5 based on wind speeds, does not account for storm surge, so even cyclones weaker than Katrina or Laura can produce huge walls of ocean water. Heavy rainfall can also compound the effects of a storm surge, dumping more water on top of the ocean flood.
Rising sea levels can make storm surges even more devastating by giving them a higher starting point and allowing them to reach further inland. Each year storm surges and the floods they cause pose significant risks to lives and property along the U.S. east coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
A storm surge is the rise in sea level that can accompany a storm such as a hurricane. During hurricanes and tropical storms, fast-rising waters can do more damage to homes and other structures than powerful winds.
Ocean waters rushing inland can inundate communities so quickly that there may be no time to evacuate. “What can be dangerous about storm surge is it causes the sea level to rise above what people are used to,” says Robert Monroe, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to the American Meteorological Society, 2,544 people died in the U.S. and its coastal waters from hurricanes between 1963 and 2012. In addition to destroying structures and causing drownings, a surge can disrupt communities by making highways impassible and knocking down power lines.
In 2015, catastrophe risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. issued a report on the eight U.S. cities most vulnerable to storm surges. The report is based on likely damage to residential, commercial, and industrial properties.
Much of the population in the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states is clustered in areas that are less than 10 feet above sea level and highly susceptible to coastal flooding. The study was based on the impact of a 100-year hurricane, a storm so large that the chances of one occurring are one in 100 in any given year.
During a tropical storm or hurricane, large buildups of water can become trapped in the city’s bay, causing flooding that inundates areas of Tampa and neighboring St. Petersburg. These conditions enable flooding to travel many miles inland during a storm surge.
The five boroughs of America’s most populous city have lengthy coastlines that expose them to flooding. The large number of properties built near the coast at low elevations makes this city highly susceptible to storm surge damage.
Charleston is located on an inlet near two rivers, exposing it to serious flood risk. Hurricane Hugo caused major storm surge flooding in Charleston and the adjacent islands in 1989.
If you live in an area prone to storm surges, being prepared can save your life. If you want to protect your home from the flood damage associated with storm surges, you could be making a mistake by relying on standard homeowner’s insurance.
That’s because such policies typically do not cover for property loss or damage due to flooding. Emergency preparedness requires a plan and the right supplies that can make it easier to grab-and-go if you’re told to evacuate.
When a serious storm is coming, you should listen to the radio for weather news, in case you have to evacuate quickly. If you live in an area prone to flooding, you can reduce the risk of damage to your home by elevating utilities, such as electrical panels, switches, and appliances.
To stay safe, avoid walking in moving flood waters if at all possible. It can be dangerous to return to a home damaged by flooding before authorities say it’s safe.
When it is safe to do so, document flood damage in case you need to file a claim with your insurance company. If you end up filing an insurance claim, the photos will help you establish the seriousness of your loss.
When a storm surge occurs, it often leaves behind billions of dollars in damage and many lost lives. Storm surges reached eight feet above normal tide levels Parts of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. were impacted The cost of the destruction was placed at more than $5 billion.
Storm surges of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide levels were recorded in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast. Storm surges between 15 and 20 feet above normal tide levels along the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas and in the Galveston Bay Area.
Property damage from Ike in U.S. coastal and inland areas was estimated at $24.9 billion. Responsible for at least 147 deaths in the northeast U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Storm surges occurring at high tide helped contribute to Sandy’s $62 billion in damages. It makes sense to know your risk, and then to take steps to protect your family and your property.