Storm surge in low lying South Florida is a very real concern, and our surging seas are only expected to aggravate the dangerous threat in the future.
When you ask the experts what the very first step in hurricane preparedness needs to be, most point to the same issue.
“Start with finding out if you live in a hurricanes storm surge evacuation zone and that will inform your decisions on other issues,” said Dr. Rick Knabb, who is the director of the National Hurricane Center.
That’s because water is the number one killer in hurricanes. And when you’re talking storm surge -- it’s swiftly moving sea water with wave action on top -- which as you might imagine, is remarkably destructive.
Before and after pictures from Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge along the coast of Mississippi illustrate the risk. Sturdy structures simply wiped off the map. And who can forget Superstorm Sandy’s surge along the Jersey Shore and New York Harbor?
The deadly storm surge threat from hurricanes is being exacerbated by sea level rise. Global warming has caused the ocean to rise an average of eight inches worldwide during the past century. And while that might not seem like much, it can mean the difference between staying high and dry or seeing your house inundated by water. And ever bigger concerns lie ahead.
“We have excellent evidence that we are going to get more sea level rise in the next decade then we have in the past," said Dr. Josh Willis, a NASA climate scientist. "It’s accelerating, so we need to be prepared.”
Another foot by 2050, or another three feet by 2100, and you might imagine that future storm surges will have an easier time submerging structures or reaching further inland.
Here’s a real-life example: Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, where the surging seas have risen three times as much as the global average. So when Haiyan struck, the surge was two feet higher than it would have normally been with catastrophic results, including 6,000.
So, remember why you’re asked to evacuate parts of South Florida when a hurricane threatens. Few can survive a large storm surge. Going forward, know that the threat of the surge will only worsen as climate change leads to higher bay and sea levels right in our backyard.