It’s no secret that tropical storms and hurricanes produce damaging winds and unleash heavy rains that can lead to fatal flooding. However, it is less obvious that the storm surges they create can be equally destructive and pose the greatest threat for property and life along coastlines.
According to the National Hurricane Center, a storm surge is an abnormally high level of water caused by a storm. It can be more than the predicted astronomical tides. It occurs when water is pushed towards the shore by the force of the wind moving cyclonically around a storm.
The height of a storm surge is dependent on a storm’s size, forward motion and angle of approach, as well as the depth of the coastline, said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. A change in a storm’s track, even of just 20 miles, can make a difference, he said, and every mile of coastline along the Eastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico is susceptible to storm surge from tropical cyclones.
“Storm surge has historically been the primary cause of death arising from tropical cyclones,” with approximately 50 percent of all direct fatalities, Mr. Feltgen said.
The National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center began issuing warnings and watches for storm surge along the East Coast and Gulf Coasts in 2017. In 2019, they expanded their reach to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since 2017, 21 tropical cyclones — including 14 hurricanes, five of which were major — have made landfall and prompted storm surge watches or warnings, he said.
In 2021, Hurricane Ida roared into Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, producing dangerously high storm surges and testing the city’s system for resisting catastrophic flooding. According to a center report, some areas of the coast saw storm surges as high as 14 feet. It is estimated that Ida’s winds and storm surge caused about $55 billion of damage in Louisiana.
2008 was the year of Ike, a Category-2 hurricane that struck Texas near Galveston Island. It caused surges up 20 feet higher than normal tide levels. Property damage was estimated at $24.9 billion. The damage to property was estimated at $24.9 billion.
Source: NY Times