A storm surge can occur in all coastal regions and is a large scale increase in the sea level due to a storm. The rise in water levels and large waves can cause severe flooding and can occur at any time of the year. The main cause of surges is from the storm’s winds literally pushing the water onshore.
The leading cause of deaths during a storm surge is due to drowning. You need to understand that you can’t outrun a storm surge so it is important that, if evacuation orders have been given, you must leave immediately.
In 1970, up to 500,000 people were killed by storm surge after a severe tropical cyclone struck the coast of the Bay of Bengal. 2008 saw more than 138,000 people killed in Myanmar from the Cyclone Nargis.
Are Storm Surge the Same as Tsunamis?
Storm surge and tsunamis are not the same thing. They are both long gravity waves but they are caused by totally different phenomena.
Storm surge is caused by hurricanes and are much more likely to happen than tsunamis. They are caused by on shore winds pushing water on to the coastline on the left side of the hurricane as it spins counter clockwise. Luckily, they can be predicted days ahead unlike tsunamis so you have plenty of time to get out.
Tsunamis don’t happen as often but do cause a lot more damage and more loss of life. They originate from earthquakes or seismologic activity and can reach thousands of miles where storm surge occurs right along the coastlines.
How Serious are Storm Surges?
Storm surge is an incredibly deadly and damaging force that comes with many coastal storms and can happen at any time of the year.
- Storm surge poses a significant threat for drowning and property damage. Even just six inches of fast-moving water can knock you off your feet, and just two feet will carry away even trucks and SUVs.
- If evacuation orders are given for your area, leave immediately. They come with incredible speed and power. You can’t outrun them, you can’t outdrive them! Find out if you are in a storm surge evacuation zone, and what route to take to safety. Have multiple routes planned in case your first route is cut off from the storm surge.
- Both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are vulnerable to storm surge, which can impact areas several miles inland as marshes, rivers and other areas become inundated with fast-moving waters.
- You must never stay back, even with the intention of leaving later as if you can’t get out, emergency responders can’t get in and rescue you. The waters can rise quickly—sometimes 6-10 feet within minutes.
How to Prepare for a Storm Surge
- Examine your house and surrounding terrain to determine if flooding is possible. If you find any areas that are potentially vulnerable, take the steps now to fix them.
- Sandbags are one of the most common methods and are an excellent way of preventing water from entering the home.
- Contact local officials and get information about emergency procedures (and possible evacuation directions).
- Find out where the gas and electricity mains are for your home and learn how to turn them off in the event of an emergency.
- If you know that you live in a flood prone area, don’t store any important documents in the ground floor or basement of your home. Make sure they are stored safely away from any potential floodwaters.
- Make sure that you and your family members have an emergency kit and plan in place. Your kit needs to be portable and in an area where you can grab it easily when needed.
If A Storm Surge Warning Has Been Issued
- Make sure that you have all the necessary items, namely, all medications, a radio, a flashlight and batteries.
- Be ready to evacuate at any moment.
- Make sure that basement windows are tightly closed.
- Fill up your car’s gas tank in advance. If evacuation of your area is necessary, it may be difficult to stop en route.
During a Storm Surge
- Stay indoors to protect yourself from the water. It’s best to stay on the side sheltered from the wind and away from windows.
- Pay attention to the storm’s progression and to any warnings or instructions from local authorities. Stay tuned into the radio so you can keep up with all the latest developments and updates on the situation.
- Don’t drive in floodwater.
- Be aware of potential risks like hypothermia or drowning in running waters.