Storm Surge: The deadliest threat from hurricanes

10:41 AM, May 31, 2013   |    comments
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The deadliest threat from a hurricane isn't the wind, it's storm surge. But right now, the National Hurricane Center doesn't issue warnings and watches for it.  That will change with the 2015 hurricane season.  Right now, forecasters are testing out a new warning system that could save countless lives.

"Tampa, if it were to be struck by a major hurricane that made landfall to the north, would produce storm surges that would boggle the mind," said Jaime Rhome, Storm Surge Team Leader at the National Hurricane Center.

Rhome describes storm surge as the raising of the sea level--and when the level rises, it invades normally dry land.  He said how badly the Tampa Bay might be hit by a storm surge depends on exactly where the storm hits.

"For example, landfall to the north of the city would put the strongest winds into the bay...would be a catastrophic strike, could raise water levels well over 20 feet beyond normal in that area," said Rhome. "Whereas, if it made landfall to the south of the city, now you've got offshore winds or winds blowing water out of the bay versus into the bay which would lessen the impact."

Beginning this hurricane season, forecasters will test out new programs that could predict where storm surge might go.  The goal is to create a new warning system independent from hurricane watches and warnings.

"We've set a target date for 2015 for a new storm surge watch and warning," said Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb. "Because storm surge and hurriane-force winds don't always occur at the same place and same time."

"Historically speaking, 75% of the lives lost in hurricanes have come from water or drownings," added Rhome. "We need to get people to think water first not wind, because that's the hazard most likely to take your life."

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