Initial Publication Date: August 12, 2008

Death and Destruction

Part B: Hurricane Hazards

Hurricanes pose specific hazards to lives and property:

Storm Surge

A storm surge is a large dome-shaped pile of water pushed ahead of a hurricane by the force of winds. The volume of water pushed toward shore and onto land can be immense. Storm surges occasionally inundate low-lying cities under several feet of water.

1. Visit this site to view a diagram of a storm surge.
2. Then view the animations from that page here:
Hurricane Storm Surge Animation showing damage based on hurricane intensity scale, from COMET/MetEd
Hurricane Storm Surge Animation with a shallow and steep continental shelf, from COMET/MetEd

3. Watch a brief video about storm surge.
4. Optional hands-on activity: Make a simple physical model of a storm surge.
• Put 4-5 cups of gravel along one side of the bottom of a large plastic bin or dishpan. Place the bin on a sturdy counter.
• Add enough water so that the water level is almost as high as the top surface of the gravel. In this model, the gravel represents a strip of land and the water represents the ocean.
• Taking extra care to keep the electrical connection and cord away from the water, turn a blow dryer on low speed. Direct the air flow on the water's surface to model a storm surge approaching the land.
• One at a time, change variables such as the angle of the gravel and the size of the storm surge you generate. Note the conditions that result in the largest amount of water on the land.
5. Take a look at this storm surge simulated by a computer model.
from NCAR & UCAR.

The animation from NCAR is based on Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall in the southeast United States in October 2016, and shows how quickly 9 feet of storm surge can flood a city.
6. Skim through the explanation of the SLOSH computer model to understand the benefits of a computer model.

Stop and Think

7. What are some of the advantages of using a computer model rather than a physical model to predict the height of storm surges?

8. What are the actions you could take to keep yourself safe from a storm surge? From the list of Storm Surge Safety Actions, record the three recommendations you believe are the most important for survival.

High Winds

A beach house in Matagorda, Florida damaged by Hurricane Claudette in July of 2003

1. Check what hurricanes' high wind speeds can do to cause damage. For more information, check out High Wind Safety Rules.
2. Did you know that hurricanes have also been known to generate tornadoes? These extreme low-pressure cells are still difficult to predict. Check out the Tornado Safety Actions for different types of buildings.

Stop and Think

9. Describe what happens to loose material and debris in hurricane-force or tornado-related winds. How can you protect yourself from this hazard?

Inland Flooding

Flooded streets in Oklahoma

During hurricanes, water comes from the sky. Soon after a hurricane passes, water from a flooding river is more likely to become a problem. Public safety officials encourage people to be prepared to deal with flooding whenever a hurricane comes ashore. Read some of the accounts of hurricane-related flooding plus the Inland Flooding: A Hidden Danger.

One of the dangers to human life during inland flooding comes when people try to drive vehicles across moving water. Public safety officials are actively spreading the word that you should Never Drive Across a Flooded Road. They have also mounted a public awareness campaign titled Turn Around Don't Drown. Check the information at these two links to find out about the dangers.

Stop and Think

10. Even large Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are discouraged from crossing a moving stream of water. Describe the conditions that can cause a vehicle to float downstream.
11. If your vehicle is suddenly caught in rising water, what is the recommended action to save your life?

Being Prepared

Watch a brief video about being prepared for a hurricane.

Heavy traffic evacuating from the coast before the landfall of Hurricane Floyd

Stop and Think

12. What specific actions should you and/or your family take to be prepared for a hurricane? Make a specific list that pertains to you and/or your family as residents of, or visitors to, an area that experiences these storms.