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Hurricanes, technically called tropical cyclones, begin to fill our news feed around the period of June to November. It’s hurricane season once again in the Atlantic Basin. 

Since 1851, more than 300 hurricanes have been reported to strike the country, according to data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Hurricanes are a fact of life in some regions of the United States. 

Furthermore, the NHC states, “Storm surge and large waves produced by hurricanes pose the greatest threat to life and property along the coast. Storm Surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds. Storm surge can reach heights well over 20 feet and can span hundreds of miles of coastline,”. Therefore, water damage from flooding and surging is most damaging during and after a hurricane.

This means people living in certain areas in the country need to start preparing for a possible landfall, especially those states that are frequently hit by this natural event. According to the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the states hit by the most hurricanes are Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and North Carolina.

Preparation is necessary because hurricanes can bring with them a lot of damage. 

How Hurricanes Can Impact You

Hurricanes come with wind speeds of at least 74 mph (119 kph) and can cover a large wind field, i.e., affect a wide area. At sea, there’s less to worry about as boats don’t typically sail out during storms. However, once a hurricane comes near land or landfalls, there’s the trouble. 

That’s because a fully developed hurricane has the heat energy of a 10-megaton nuclear bomb which explodes every 20 minutes, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Portal. That’s a ton of energy and that’s scary. 

Plus, the damage hurricanes leave behind can be devastating and wide reaching. The natural disaster affects coastal areas as well as inland locations. Hurricanes disrupt American lives by causing power outages, damaging public infrastructures, and inflicting environmental problems, such as polluting drinking water. Strong winds and flooding that usually accompany hurricanes can damage cars, buildings, and houses. Or worse, hurricanes can also injure people or kill them. 

These are only the direct impacts of hurricanes, but those affected will also feel the indirect effects for the long-term. People could lose their source of livelihood or worse. “Our entire community is wiped out,” two Sanibel Island residents, Connie Irvin and Cheryl Lange, shared to The Guardian.

They could also face homelessness or displacement. “It’s been very difficult. I now know what it’s like to be homeless and not have simple things like bathroom availability,” Irvin told the publication.

There could be shortages in clean water and food, or people could have difficulty accessing health care. Most importantly, they might be deprived of long-standing relationships and support structures. In short, hurricanes could easily destabilize their lives in an instant.

“It’s, you know, it’s in the snap of the finger. Your life is never going to be the same,” Jacquelyn Velazquez , a resident at nearby Fort Myers Beach, told Fortune. “It’s not the things that you lose. It’s just trying to get back to some normalcy.”

Don’t forget, hurricanes are costly too. According to NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management, hurricanes caused damages amounting to more than $1.3 trillion or $22.8 billion per hurricane on average. 

This Causes the Most Damage During a Hurricane

When thinking about hurricanes, strong winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding might be the first things that come to mind. However, hurricanes also bring with them rip currents, tornadoes, storm tides and storm surges, according to the NHC. And, among these, it’s the storm surge that people should watch out for. 

According to the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal, hurricane winds only account for 8% of deaths in the U.S. What’s worse? Water, more specifically storm surge, which took about half (49%) of lives lost during a hurricane. This was the case for Hurricane Katrina, where the Mississippi coast saw up to 28 feet of water over normal tide levels and up to 20 feet along Louisiana’s southeastern coast, according to the

What Is a Storm Surge?

NOAA defines storm surge as the abnormal rise of water above normal tide levels that is caused by a storm, as strong winds during a hurricane push ocean water toward the shore. 

What Factors Affect a Storm Surge’s Intensity?

A storm surge’s height or water level can range from 3 feet to over 25 feet (1 to over 5 meters), depending on the hurricane’s intensity. How high water levels can get and how far inland it will go is affected by the following factors, according to NOAA: 

  • Storm intensity -Stronger and faster winds create a higher storm surge. 
  • Forward speed -A fast storm creates a storm surge along the coast, while a slower storm can result in a higher and broader storm surge inland.
  • Size or radius of maximum winds – Hurricanes with a wider wind field creates more storm surge. 
  • Angle of approach to the coast – Hurricanes moving perpendicularly or coming directly to the coastline will increase the chances of storm surge, whereas a hurricane moving alongside or parallel to the coastline will decrease this chance.
  • Coastal features – Coastlines with bays and rivers, for instance, should expect a greater storm surge impact. 
  • Width and slope of the continental shelf – A coastline with a wide shelf or shallow slope, such as that of Louisiana, increases the potential of storm surge, whereas a coastline with a narrow or steep shelf, such as that of Florida, decreases the likelihood of a huge storm surge. 

How Can a Storm Surge Impact You and Your Community?

Imagine the weight of about 1,700 pounds per cubic yard of water. That’s what you’re dealing with in a storm surge. This can affect a coastal community in several ways, including: 

  • Severely eroding beaches and coastal highways,
  • Severely damaging marinas and boats in confined harbors, 
  • Eroding the soil underneath buildings which can undermine and weaken their foundation, 
  • Add to the rising flood levels, 
  • Flood inland rivers and lakes, which can pollute water, kill vegetation and freshwater animals or send them fleeing, and 
  • Cause people to drown, which accounts for nearly half of all deaths attributed to Atlantic hurricanes from 1963 to 2012, per the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

Who Are Most At-Risk of Storm Surge?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than 1 million up to about 7.5 million single-family houses and around 40,000 to over 260,000 multi-family homes can be potentially affected by hurricanes. Folks living in the following metropolitan areas are especially at risk for storm surge:

  • New York, Newark, Jersey City
  • Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach
  • Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater
  • New Orleans, Metairie
  • Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News 
What Causes the Most Damage During a Hurricane?

What You Can Do

It’s frightening to think about storm surges and the other major hazards that a hurricane brings with it. So, it’s important to listen to the NOAA Weather Radio for advisories. You can also tune in to TV stations for instructions from officials.   

When there’s a hurricane in the weather forecast, make all the necessary preparations. And, don’t take chances or unnecessary risks. When there’s an evacuation order, obey right away. Not everyone is as lucky as these guys and their dogs living in a small pink house who got swept away with their home but miraculously survived.

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