Why you should worry about water, not just wind, when a hurricane hits

Tracking the Tropics

NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane categories are based on wind speeds. But, water is often the greater risk to life and property.

“I think people totally underestimate the power of water,” says Jamie Rhome from the National Hurricane Center Storm Surge Unit. “They need only to hear from a person who has stayed in a hurricane, ridden it out. The quote I hear most often is I’ll never do that again.”

For the 2021 hurricane season, the NHC has upgraded its ability to predict storm surge. It will give emergency managers more time to decide whether or not to evacuate certain areas, sometimes giving them 12 more hours to make those tough decisions.

“No other hazard in the hurricane has the ability to take so many lives,” says Jamie Rhome from the National Hurricane Center Storm Surge Unit. “If we give a best case and that does not materialize, people don’t evacuate, communities don’t prepare, and then you lose a ton of people in storm surge.”

Water from storm surge isn’t the only danger.

“The rainfall flooding threat can take an inordinate number of lives,” points out Michael Brennan from the NHC Hurricane Specialist Unit. “It’s historically responsible for a quarter of direct fatalities from hurricanes and tropical storms in the United States.”

Brennan adds storms can cause rough seas and rip currents far away from where they make landfall, presenting dangers for boaters and swimmers.

“All together, some type of water is associated with about 90 percent of the fatalities in US tropical cyclones,” says Brennan.

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