Storm surge is deadly

Published 4:16 pm Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Atlantic Ocean hurricane season is upon us.

Though it officially began Wednesday, it came early this year, as far back as January when Hurricane Alex formed in the northeastern Atlantic. Tropical Storm Bonnie formed Memorial Day Weekend, bringing heavy rain at times to the area.

Hurricanes, with their strong, sustained winds of 75 mph or higher, can be deadly. Perhaps not so much for those strong winds but for storm surge and associated flooding caused by heavy rains. Along coastal areas, storm surge often is the greatest threat to life and property, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted astronomical tides. Do not confuse storm surge with storm tide, which is defined as the water level rise caused by the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide, according to the center. This increase in water level may cause extreme flooding in coastal areas, particularly when storm surge occurs during a normal high tide, resulting in storm tides reaching up to 20 feet or more in some instances.

Aurora residents learned about storm surge when Hurricane Irene passed through the area several years ago, according to John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency-management director. In recent years, the National Hurricane Center has been paying closer attention to storm surge.

“Several years ago, the hurricane center became quite interested in trying to figure out how to do a better job of doing storm-surge forecasting, but also storm-surge communication,” said Betty Morrow, one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials, at a meeting about storm surge. “We started doing surveys to see if people understood storm surge. We found, in general, they do not.”

Morrow said a common belief is that the stronger a hurricane’s winds, the greater the storm surge will be. That’s not always the case, she said. Pack agreed.

Pack noted that Hurricane Irene was a category 1 storm with minimal hurricane-strength winds, but its associated storm surge caused major problems in the Aurora area and other places in eastern North Carolina.

These days, storm-surge predictions are included in hurricane advisories.

Yes, hurricane winds are deadly. So is storm surge — prepare accordingly.