Storm Surge: This Misunderstood Threat Can Be Every Bit As Deadly As A Tsunami

impacts Shutterstock

One of the most powerful tropical storms ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan, rampaged across the central Philippines in 2013, causing the deaths of more than 7,000 people. The devastating consequences were not simply the result of a 7.5 metre “storm surge” but also down to the fact that few people actually knew what it meant when there were warnings of the phenomenon, and the threat it posed to the population.

Storm surge does not occur as inland flooding caused by heavy rainfall, or as coastal flooding that occurs any time low-lying land is inundated by seawater. Storm surge is an abnormal rise in water levels over the estimated high tide. Simply put, it is ocean water forced by powerful hurricane winds towards the coast. Such hurricane-force winds are always hazardous to coastal communities and infrastructure, but often the most devastating consequences for local populations are due to storm surge.

What is unique about storm surge?

Storm surges are unique in their characteristics, because of their high sensitivity to the slightest change in storm parameters such as speed, pressure, intensity, direction of approach, position of the coast or the depth of the ocean.

Storm parameters tend to change rapidly during the lifecycle of a hurricane, increasing uncertainty around storm surge water levels. Despite being regarded as a secondary hazard, storm surge often poses more of a threat than strong hurricane winds, usually regarded as the primary hazard.

Storm Surge: This Misunderstood Threat Can Be Every Bit As Deadly As A Tsunami Storm surge is an abnormal rise in water level over the estimated high tide, forced by hurricane winds on to the land. National Hurricane Center/NOAA, Author provided

Coastal areas are largely altered by various other factors such as erosion and depletion of storm buffers such as reefs, wetlands and salt marshes through day-to-day interaction with the dynamics of the sea. So the coastline is constantly changing, making it more vulnerable and paving the way for new inundation levels from the next storm surge.

Sometimes storm surge is confused with tsunamis (as both involve a wall of water rushing towards the coastline), or storm tides, which are a combination of storm surge and tide over and above the normal water level. Both phenomena result in coastal inundations and can cause substantial loss of life and economic damage.

Tsunamis can be seismic, meaning they can result from the vibrations of the Earth such as earthquakes, or non-seismic – caused by phenomena such as meteorites or asteroids. But storm surge is only associated with tropical or extra-tropical cyclones where heavy winds trigger the abnormal rise in water levels.

A typical effect of a tsunami is the receding of the sea – identified during the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 – before it banks up to create a huge wall of water. This was also witnessed during Hurricane Irma in 2017, when the storm exhibited a “negative storm surge effect”. This happens when seawater is sucked away from the shore uncovering the seabed or leaving it in a dry state.

Is storm surge decreasing?

A study from 2018 claimed that the death rate from storm surges is decreasing thanks to improved forecasting technologies, early warning systems, coastal protections and speedy evacuations. However, recent storms like Cyclone Idai remind us that storm surge has not gone away. Counting deaths attributed to storm surge over a period of time seems to give a misleading picture of reduced impact, plus signs of a decreasing trend may not indicate the actual risks associated with storm surge.

In 2018, Edward Rappaport, acting director of the US’s National Hurricane Center, carried out an analysis on direct deaths from Atlantic tropical cyclones over three decades from 1970-1999. His study recorded that most of cyclone-related fatalities were associated with rainfall and not attributable to storm surges. The 1,800 deaths from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and significant economic damage that occurred during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, majorly altered his claim, and he later reported that 49% of deaths from Atlantic hurricanes are directly associated with storm surge.

Storm Surge: This Misunderstood Threat Can Be Every Bit As Deadly As A Tsunami NHC

The increase in tropical cyclone-generated storm surges that occurred around the world between 2015 and 2018 and the human and economic cost that resulted, clearly contradicts any claim that death rates from storm surges are decreasing.

During the course of Cyclone Idai, which struck Zimbabwe and the coast of Mozambique on March 14, 2019, mud houses were washed away and sea defences were damaged. Towns were cut off from rescue operations, and the death toll exceeded 800 people with hundreds reported missing. Winds of up to 177kmph (106mph) resulted in 90% of the city of Beira in Mozambique being destroyed.

With airports closed, rescuers could only reach survivors by land, which not only protracted the rescue process but also complicated the deployment of food, water and emergency medical services. This is what typically happens when a storm surge hits.

Cyclone Idai is a deadly example of the power of a storm surge, and the cities in its path are still recovering from the impact, with the death toll expected to exceed 1,000. This would certainly indicate that storm surge is not a declining trend. Which is all the more reason to help people in vulnerable parts of the world to understand what storm surge is and just how much a threat to life it can be.The Conversation

About The Author

Anitha Karthik, Doctoral Researcher, Edinburgh Napier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

green energy2 3
Four Green Hydrogen Opportunities for the Midwest
by Christian Tae
To avert a climate crisis, the Midwest, like the rest of the country, will need to fully decarbonize its economy by…
ug83qrfw
Major Barrier to Demand Response Needs to End
by John Moore, On Earth
If federal regulators do the right thing, electricity customers across the Midwest may soon be able to earn money while…
trees to plant for climate2
Plant These Trees To Improve City Life
by Mike Williams-Rice
A new study establishes live oaks and American sycamores as champions among 17 “super trees” that will help make cities…
north sea sea bed
Why We Must Understand Seabed Geology To Harness The Winds
by Natasha Barlow, Associate Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change, University of Leeds
For any country blessed with easy access to the shallow and windy North Sea, offshore wind will be key to meeting net…
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.