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Why coastal communities should fear storm surge

The National Weather Service says almost half of all deaths from tropical cyclones come from storm surge....

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 1:29 PM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 1:29 PM

The National Weather Service says almost half of all deaths from tropical cyclones come from storm surge.

While many people focus on the wind speed of storms, the danger often comes from the water flowing in from the ocean.

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Hurricane Florence

Privately, you may be wondering (and you wouldn't be alone): "What exactly is storm surge?"

"A storm surge is a rise in water level caused by a strong storm's wind pushing water on-shore," said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. "The wind literally piles up the ocean water and pushes it on the land."

Forecasters are worried about the surge from Hurricane Florence, which is expected to be a major storm when it pounds the Carolinas on Thursday and Friday.

The storm surge warning issued by the National Hurricane Center extends from the South Santee River in South Carolina to Duck, on North Carolina's barrier islands known as the Outer Banks.

Much of this part of the Eastern Seaboard is not very high at all and forecasters expect storm surge between the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Cape Lookout to be as high as 13 feet.

Geography, tide-cycle and wind direction are all factors in how severe storm surge could be, Miller said. The stronger the storm, the stronger the winds and the higher the storm surge will be.

Storm surge also can exacerbate flooding. As the water piles up along the coast, rivers and streams that typically drain into the ocean can become clogged farther upstream, forcing water levels to rise.

That water doesn't just leave. Depending on how much water was pushed ashore and the area's watershed, it may hang around, causing further damage to communities.

Due to climate change, storm surge has become an even greater threat in recent years.

"Sea levels have risen in most places by about 1 foot over the past century. The higher baseline ocean level allows storm surges to reach even higher, increasing their destructive capabilities," Miller said.

The National Weather Service in a 2014 report said that most surge deaths occurred in Hurricane Katrina and several other big, powerful storms. In a majority of storms, excessive rainfall that leads to drownings is the leading cause of death. Florence is expected to also be a rainmaker, with totals of 35 inches possible in some areas.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
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