Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Science. Policy. Education. Outreach. Coastal.

Storm Surge Research & Publication

8978677Hurricanes affect some portion of the coast every year in the US. Although high winds often receive the most public attention, storm surge is the greatest factor contributing to loss of life and property along the coast. Hurricane Katrina (2005) produced some of the highest surges ever recorded (over 9 m or 30 ft) and was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history with over $100 billion in losses. Katrina also caused significant loss of life, with over 1100 fatalities in Louisiana alone. With increasing coastal populations, sea-level rise, and the threat of increased hurricane intensity, it is more important than ever to understand hurricane storm surge.

Predicting the potential for storm surges along any given shoreline is vital for the safety of coastal communities; however, storm surge prediction and modeling have proven to be extremely difficult because of the numerous factors that can contribute to the overall rise in water level. The Saffir-Simpson scale was developed in the late 1960’s as a simple way to characterize the strength of an approaching hurricane based solely on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed. The updated Saffir-Simpson scale  also claims to be a way to estimate potential property damage. The scale is widely used to communicate the potential storm hazard to the general public; however, it has been less reliable for predicting storm surge or damage that could result from a storm. For example, Hurricane Katrina made landfall as only a category three on the Saffir-Simpson scale, yet was the costliest hurricane to date and produced the highest storm surge in recorded history.Storm surge (not wind speed) has caused more deaths in the United States (since 1900) than all other hurricane-related threats combined (Blake and Gibney, 2011). Therefore, using the Saffir-Simpson scale to estimate risk, storm surge, or potential property damage is inherently flawed.

Because of these factors, PSDS has been focusing on storm surge research for several years. This began with the formation of a “one-stop-shop” database of all (historical and recent) storm surge data points. Over the years, storm surge data have been collected in a variety of ways by numerous organizations. It is often located within storm specific reports and documents, many unpublished.

In an effort to increase data availability, we are building a database containing all the storm surge, storm tide, and high water mark (HWM) data collected in the United States. Storm track and landfall meteorology were also incorporated into the database, so investigators can query the data to test the relationship between storm characteristics and storm surge. These data can be used for model calibration and verification as well as for examining the geomorphic and meteorological controls on storm surge levels.

Visit the Storm Surge Viewer!

For more information, contact the lead storm surge researcher, Katie Peek 

Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines
Old Student Union
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC 28734