PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t officially begin until June 1, but forecasters are already predicting an active 2021. Eyewitness News spoke with the National Hurricane Center about the deadliest problem during hurricane season — storm surge.
While dramatic images are what we think about, the most devastating issue in a tropical system comes from storm surge, or water that piles up along the coast.
New advancements in the hurricane warning system have moved the emphasis from wind to water as the primary threat to life during tropical systems.
“Mortality from hurricanes, over the last several decades, water is the No. 1 killer,” NHC Storm Surge team lead Jamie Rhome said. “About 50% of the lives lost, historically, storm surge.”
Freshwater flooding from rain, streams and rivers then compounds the issue, accounting for one-quarter of all tropical storm and hurricane fatalities.
“Three out of four direct fatalities in a hurricane come at the hand of water, not wind,” Rhome said.
There are measures residents who live along the shoreline can take to protect themselves during tropical systems. These include getting special flood insurance to protect their homes and property.
But more importantly, the National Hurricane Center and their emergency manager partners have enacted plans to help people properly evacuate from rising tides.
“We evacuate from the water, not the wind, and we have evacuation zones,” Rhome said. “They are labeled A, B, C, D, or numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and you have to see if you are in an evacuation zone. So, if a mandatory evacuation is issued you know whether or not it impacts you.”
Precautionary actions like this are becoming increasingly important. Regardless of where you stand on the changing climate and the reasons behind it, sea levels are rising.
Rhome says this is paving the way for bigger problems, such as a higher base for future storm surge events to inflict more coastal flooding and amplifying natural processes like beach erosion.
“What hurricanes do is come in and basically accelerate that natural evolution all in one shot,” Rhome said. “So, what a hurricane does in 10 hours is what mother nature could do in 10 or 20 years.”
Each year the government spends almost $150 million on beach nourishment and shoreline control efforts to mitigate the roughly $500 million in property loss that beach erosion is responsible for.
Also, this year the National Hurricane Center is increasing lead time on evacuations to make sure they are done in an even more orderly manner.