CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Contrary to popular belief wind is not the biggest killer in a hurricane.
It is often water and more often than not it is storm surge.
“Know your risk,” said Ken Graham, National Hurricane Center Director for the National Weather Service. “So if you are right on the coast, if you are out on the Barrier Islands you know you are going to get the storm surge so you have to have a place to go. You may not have to go far but you have to have a place to go to get away from the water. 90% of the fatalities in tropical systems is because of the water, not the wind. So you have to get away from the water and just kinda make sure you hide from the wind.”
So what is storm surge? It is the water from the ocean being pushed inland that kills the largest number of people.
Jamie Rhome of the National Weather Service agrees.
“In its simple form storm surge is just the force of the wind,” Rhome said. “In any strong storm a hurricane is just a classic example of pushing he ocean on to the land. So it just pushes the water inland where it normally does not go.”
Usually the people in the first row of homes along the beach, we have no problem convincing them that the ocean might invade their home.
“Water will go up the river the same way it goes down the river,” Rhome said. “So you have to think of rovers as pathways for the ocean to come inland. So if you live near a river and you are within a couple hour drive from the coastline, you gotta sorta scratch your head and say, 'Hey maybe this is a problem for me,’”
So how do you prepare for a storm surge?
“Just simply look to see if you are in an evacuation zone,” Rhome said. “In this nation, hurricane evacuation zones are based on the storm surge threat. So if you are in a hurricane evacuation zone that means you are vulnerable to storm surge and you need to pay attention.”
Storm surge graphics are now being used to help people understand how bad the storm is going to be in terms of how high the water is going to get at any given coastal location.
“We heard from people in no uncertain terms that we were speaking in phrases and words scientific jargon that no one understood,” Rhome said. “They basically said knock off the geek speak and tell me how far up my leg will the water raise. Or if it is a really bad storm, how far over my head will it be,
“So this graphic accomplishes that. It will tell you how deep the water could be and how far inland the water could go.”
Even through it rarely happens, in any given storm you must prepare for the worst case scenario.
“It’s just not survivable and even if it were, the misery and suffering that you would endure for days afterwards is just not worth it,” Rhome said.
“I was looking through the damage as usual and the husband and wife who own the residence where I was at came up to me. I asked them why they left. They described a map that they had seen and it looked bad that was our forecast. They had looked at our forecast and made the decision to get out and it probably saved their lives. It’s those little moments in time that drive you and propel you to make it just a little bit better.”