While strong winds and heavy rain are two of the dangers that first come to mind when thoughts turn to the imminent hurricane season, a byproduct of the two can lead to an equally if not more destructive weather phenomenon: storm surge. Let’s take a closer look at this significant hazard to life and property, along with highlighting a new interactive tool from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) aimed at predicting storm surge and fostering critical preparedness.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines storm surge as “an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tide.” In some cases, storm surge can span hundreds and miles of coastline and reach heights of more than 20 feet!
Storm surge, along with the battering waves which accompany it, can result in catastrophic damage to buildings, roads, bridges, and the environment, as well as loss of life. In fact, storm surge directly causes approximately half of all deaths associated with large storms, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Not only is every U.S. East and Gulf coast location vulnerable to storm surge, but storm surge is also powerful enough to move far inland. For example, during Hurricane Ike, coastal flooding from storm surge penetrated 30 miles inland—reaching areas as distant as southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas.
Meanwhile, the massive storm surge flooding—as high as 28 feet above normal tide levels—during Hurricane Katrina resulted in massive tragedy, contributing to the storm’s status as one of the most disastrous weather events in the U.S. history.
Other major hurricanes, including Dennis, Isabel, Opal, Hugo and Camille, all had notable storm surge events—and staggering death tolls to go along with them. Hurricane storm tides in Galveston in 1900 were responsible for the deaths of at least 8,000 people!
Certainly, one of the reasons the Galveston hurricane is on record as the deadliest weather disaster in United States history is because neither prediction models nor warning systems were as advanced then as they are today. But there’s still room for improvement when it comes to predicting, planning, and preparing for storms and storm surge. Enter the NHC’s new Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map.
Effective this year for certain storms impacting both the East and Gulf coasts, this exciting tool assesses and depicts the risk of coastal flooding from storm surge. This user-manipulatable map uses the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) model to predict where storm surge and resulting coastal flooding could occur, as well as the potential height of water above ground.
Developed by a panel of experts for an audience ranging from government agencies to the media to the general public, the experimental Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map will be released within 90 minutes of when the first hurricane watch or warning is issued with the ultimate goal of arming people and organizations with the information they need to make potentially life-saving decisions when a storm is bearing down on them.
This is where a well-planned emergency action plan—including comprehensive communications strategies—becomes the imperative for today’s safety-minded organizations. As hurricane season approaches, now is the time to ask yourself: Is your organization prepared for the next Katrina or Galveston—and for the devastating storm surge triggered by these storms?