Why Ida’s storm surge potential should worry coastal communities


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

Almost half of all deaths from tropical cyclones come from storm surge.

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.”

All that water has nowhere to go

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.

Ida could leave some parts of southeast Louisiana “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according the to the latest hurricane statement from the National Weather Service.

Westbound I-10 traffic was heavy on the Bonnet Carré Spillway early on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, as many New Orleans area residents evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ida.

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.



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