- Storm surge has been responsible for about half of hurricane deaths since 1970.
- In addition to being the deadliest threat, storm surge is also often the most destructive part of a hurricane.
- Climate change could make storm surges worse, a new study suggests.
Storm surge, the massive mound of water that collects and washes ashore during a hurricane, is often the deadliest and most destructive threat from these devastating storms.
In fact, storm surge has been responsible for about half of all hurricane deaths since 1970, according to the National Hurricane Center. It caused most of the 1,800 deaths in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Storm surge is characterized by water that is pushed toward shore by the force of winds moving around the storm, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.
Storm surge watches and warnings are now separate from hurricane watches because hurricane-force winds and storm surges don’t always occur at the same place or at the same time, said Rick Knabb, a former hurricane center director and now a hurricane expert. on the Weather Channel.
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Preparing for hurricane-force winds is different than preparing for storm surges, he said. For storm surge, people should evacuate, while for wind, they can stay in a strong structure as long as it’s away from flood-prone areas, Knabb said.
What is a storm surge warning?
A “Storm Surge Watch” is issued when flooding is possible, while a “Warning” is issued when flooding is expected. Every coastal city along the Gulf or the US East Coast is at risk from storm surge, the hurricane center said.
In addition to being the deadliest threat, storm surge is also often the most destructive part of a hurricane. In Hurricane Sandy in 2012, storm surge-induced flooding measured up to nine feet above ground in parts of New York and New Jersey, causing billions of dollars in damage.
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The damage occurred despite Sandy making landfall as the equivalent of only a Category 1 hurricane, with winds around 80 mph, and was downgraded to below hurricane status shortly after.
Impact of climate change
Another factor: Climate change could make storm surges worse, a new study suggests. The frequency of extreme storm surges is projected to increase as much as 10-fold in coming decades due to rising temperatures, according to a 2013 study. Global warming has already doubled the chance of storms like Katrina, according to the study, which was led by climatologist Aslak Grinsted of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
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Storm surge flooding does not include flooding caused by heavy rains from a hurricane, such as what happened in the Houston area in 2017 with Hurricane Harvey and in North Carolina in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew.
It also has nothing to do with tsunamis, large ocean waves generated by offshore earthquakes that are unrelated to weather.