High winds can damage property and send debris flying during a hurricane, but storm surge and flooding are by far the deadliest features of tropical cyclones.
Storm surge and rainfall flooding accounted for 75 percent of the tropical cyclone related deaths from 1963 to 2012, according to the National Hurricane Center. Winds and storm-spawned tornadoes accounted for only 10 to 15 percent of deaths over the same stretch.
Along the coast, storm surge is particularly deadly. Click here to see how storm surge will affect your location.
Storm surge happens when a tropical cyclone pushes ocean water to shore, causing it to rise beyond predicted routine tide levels.
Extreme flooding is possible in coastal areas particularly when storm surge coincides with high tide, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The threat to life posed by storm surge is possibly greater now than ever, because more people are choosing to live along America’s coasts.
Surge vulnerability facts from the National Hurricane Center
- From 1990-2008, population density increased by 32 percent in Gulf of Mexico coastal counties, 17 percent in Atlantic coastal counties, and 16 percent in Hawaii (U.S. Census Bureau 2010)
- Much of the United States' densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level. Click here to find high ground in Beaufort County.
- More than half the nation’s economic productivity is located within coastal zones.
- 72 percent of ports, 27 percent of major roads and 9 percent of rail lines within the Gulf Coast region are at or below 4 feet elevation (CCSP, SAP 4-7)
- A storm surge of 23 feet has the ability to inundate 67 percent of interstates, 57 percent of arterials, almost half of rail miles, 29 airports and virtually all ports in the Gulf Coast area (CCSP SAP 4-7)
Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge was the highest ever recorded on an American coast, at 27.8 feet above the average sea level measured near Pass Christian, Mississippi in 2005, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Fortunately, fatalities from tropical cyclones have not come close to Katrina levels in the 10 years since the storm made landfall.
Notable surge events from the National Hurricane Center
Ike 2008 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Hurricane Ike made landfall near the north end of Galveston Island as a Category 2 hurricane. Storm surges of 15-20 feet above normal tide levels occurred along the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas and in much of the Galveston Bay area. Property damage from Ike is estimated at $24.9 billion. More...
Katrina 2005 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Katrina was one of the most devastating hurricanes in the history of the United States. It produced catastrophic damage - estimated at $75 billion in the New Orleans area and along the Mississippi coast - and is the costliest U. S. hurricane on record. Storm surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide levels was associated with Katrina. More...
Dennis 2005 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Dennis affected much of Florida, and its effects extended well inland over portions of the southeastern United States with the maximum amount rainfall of 12.80 inches occuring near Camden, Alabama. Storm surge flooding of 7-9 ft produced considerable storm surge-related damage near St. Marks, Florida, well to the east of the landfall location. The damage associated with Dennis in the United States is estimated at $2.23 billion. More...
Isabel 2003 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Isabel was the worst hurricane to affect the Chesapeake Bay region since 1933. Storm surge values of more than 8 feet flooded rivers that flowed into the bay across Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. Isabel was the most intense hurricane of the 2003 season and directly resulted in 17 deaths and more than $3 billion in damages. More...
Opal 1995 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Hurricane Opal made landfall near Pensacola Beach, Florida as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm caused extensive storm surge damage from Pensacola Beach to Mexico Beach (a span of 120 miles) with a maximum storm tide of 24 feet, recorded near Fort Walton Beach. Damage estimates for Opal were near $3 billion. More...
Hugo 1989 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Hugo impacted the southeastern United States, including South Carolina cities Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Hugo was responsible for 60 deaths and $7 billion in damages, with the highest storm surge estimated at 19.8 feet at Romain Retreat, South Carolina. More...
Camille 1969 (SLOSH Historical Run)
Camille was a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale with maximum winds of more than 155 mph and storm surge flooding of 24 feet that devastated the Mississippi coast. The final death count for the U.S. is listed at 256. This includes 143 on the Gulf coast and another 113 from the Virginia floods. More...
Audrey 1957 (SLOSH Historical Run)
There were 390 deaths associated with Audrey as the result of a storm surge in excess of 12 feet, which inundated the flat coast of southwestern Louisiana as far as 25 miles inland in some places. More...
New England 1938 (SLOSH Historical Run)
The Long Island Express was a fast-moving Category 3 hurricane that struck Long Island and New England with little warning on September 21. A storm surge of 10 to 12 ft inundated the coasts of Rhode Island, Connecticut, southeastern Massachusetts, and Long Island, NY, especially in Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay. Six hundred people died due to the storm. More...
Galveston 1900 (SLOSH Historical Run)
At least 8,000 people died when hurricane storm tides (the surge plus the astronomical tide) of 8-15 feet inundated most of the island city of Galveston, TX and adjacent areas on the mainland. More...