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Understanding Storm Surges

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A storm surge occurs when high winds push water towards the shore. When this surge of water combines with normal tides it develops into a hurricane storm tide. These can raise the mean water level up to more than fifteen feet. When the water rises it can create several devastating consequences such as severe coastal area flooding.

Surge Level

The slope of the continental shelf also determines a particular area’s surge level. Coastal communities will experience a greater surge when they are on a shallow slope. Those located on steeper slopes will experience less of a surge, however they can still experience major problems due to large breaking waves. Throughout history, storm surges have caused severe damage to marinas, ships and pleasure boats regardless of their surge level.

SLOSH Model

This is a tool that is used to determine the evacuation threat posed by storm surges. Since this type of weather can also affect rivers and inland lakes it helps emergency teams to determine how large the evacuation area needs to be. The SLOSH model does not, however, allow emergency teams to assess the intensity of an oncoming storm. It is often difficult to predict how intense a storm surge will be once it makes landfall. In this instance, emergency teams will use their personal judgment when deciding how many people need to be evacuated.

Damage and Risks

When the tides are associated with current action and other waves the water can weigh an estimated 1,700 pounds per cubic yard. Structures that were not designed to specifically withstand this type of weather will be demolished. Those that were specifically designed for this type of weather can still be severely damaged.

Storm surges have been known to not only collapse buildings and bridges, but severely erode coastal highways and beaches. In bayous and estuaries, the salt water brought in by storm surges can also pose a public health risk as well as cause animals to seek refuge in urban areas.

A storm surge is a threat that should definitely not be taken lightly. It can cause significant damage due to being such a significant force of nature.

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