Hurricane Storm Surge: Double Dose of Trouble

Steve's picture

Previously, I blogged about hurricane wind hazard. Everyone knows however, that hurricanes pack a double dose of trouble -- wind and storm surge. Surge is a temporary increase of local sea level associated with the storm. In essence, the ocean turns into a river flowing inland. A disastrous prospect if you or your property stand in the way.

 Storm surge involves several components: low pressure, wind and waves. As wandering low pressure centers, hurricanes draw up the ocean in the same way that sucking on a straw draws up lemonade. Low pressure adds about a meter to surge where the pressure is lowest, close to the storm’s central eye. The drawn-up water pile travels with the storm and “splats” onto shore with hurricane landfall. A larger and more widespread contribution to surge comes from the powerful winds that circle the eye. Wind blowing over water always drags along some of the fluid below. If that wind-driven water encounters a barrier, like the coast, it “banks up” against the land, effectively increasing sea level at the shore (see the cartoon). Blow hard on your soup and it too will bank-up against the far side of the bowl. The slope of the banked-up ocean is incredibly slight -- maybe 1/100 of one degree. Still, if the winds blow long enough and strong enough, more and more water joins the bank and that 1/100 of one degree slope, extending many tens of kilometers offshore, translates to several meters of sea level rise at the coast. Finally, normal wind waves ride atop the pile compounding matters.


 Forecasting surge starts with forecasting hurricane pressure and wind. It’s more challenging than forecasting just peak values however; you need all the details - wind direction and strength everywhere, for the entire life of the storm. Moreover, offshore water depth and your local bathymetric conditions matter. Do I live on a bay or a straight coast? It’s easy to imagine that offshore-directed winds, weak and fast moving storms work in your favor. Needless to say, the better are your chances the higher the elevation and further away from the coast you find yourself.


 To calibrate their models, scientists compare computer simulations of surge with actual field measurements taken after historical hurricanes like Katrina (2005). Knock on wood that we better predict the surge hazards of the next one.

 If you’d like to get a taste of storm surge and see some “What if Katrina happened here” scenarios, take a look at this You Tube video.

 Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge Simulation

Steven N. Ward,   Santa Cruz



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kateymartin's picture

The most risky element of a hurricane is the hurricane surge. A storm surge form of like a tsunami. It a nearby rise within the ocean waters caused by the essay help – sturdy winds close to the attention of the hurricane and, to the lesser extent, the low stress close to the middle of the storm. So that you could rather be on higher floor if you are in the course of the hurricane surge and no longer underground where you'll be trapped via the water dashing ashore and flooding the vicinity. It's miles this sudden surge or water coming ashore that is taken into consideration to be the maximum risky and negative a part of a storm.

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