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The Dangers of a Storm Surge

By Jillian MacMath, Staff Writer
October 29, 2012; 10:09 AM ET
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Though we often talk generally about the seriousness of a hurricane, a storm surge, in particular, can be one of the most dangerous and damaging parts. According to The National Hurricane Center, a storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane.

A storm surge occurs when a storm generates a rise of water significantly above a predicted astronomical tide, according to the National Weather Service.

"Storm surges are interesting," Kerry Emanuel said, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT. "They are one of the major sources of damage caused by hurricanes. They are like tsunamis but they are not generated by earthquakes but by hurricane winds."

The dramatic rise in water level often causes extreme flooding in coastal areas, including property damage, erosion of beaches and coastal highways, fleeing of animals from the flooded areas, and even death.

The severity of a surge is impacted by several factors, including: wind intensity, forward speed of the storm, the angle of the approaching storm, and the width and slope of the continental shelf.

If you live in an area prone to storm surges, there are ways to prepare. Be sure to listen for public weather warnings issued for your area. Battery-operated radios are ideal, as strong winds can knock out power.

Know how to shut off the gas and electricity in your home, in case you are instructed to by local authorities.

Have a home emergency kit prepared including first aid supplies and

flashlights. Know where important documents and supplies are located in case of a forced evacuation.

Above all, obey evacuation orders. If an evacuation is ordered, it is an emergency situation. It is dangerous and potentially life-threatening to remain in the area.

Hurricane Ike - 2008

Ike, a category 2 hurricane, resulted in surges between 15 and 20 feet above normal tide levels along the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas and in the Galveston Bay area.

Hurricane Katrina - 2005

Known as one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent history, Katrina caused surge flooding that soared up to 28 feet above normal tide level.

Hurricane Dennis - 2005

Hurricane Dennis struck much of Florida and stretched to inland portions of the southeastern U.S. Storm surge flooding was between seven and nine feet, and caused severe damage.

Hurricane Isabel - 2003

Isabel made a name for itself as one of the worst hurricanes in recent years. Storm surges reaching 8 feet over normal tide levels spread into Virginia Maryland, Delaware and Washington D.C.


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