Initial Publication Date: April 12, 2014

Hurricane Storm Surge Hazards in West-central Florida

Marianne Caldwell, Geoscience, Hillsborough Community College


The low-lying coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico have been widely developed and support large populations. The beaches and waterfronts are important economically to coastal communities. However, these low topographic regions are at risk for hurricane storm surges. Citizens living in these areas need to be aware of the hazards associated with storm surges and have a plan prior to hurricane season. Unfortunately many residents have not heeded the warnings for preparation. Some of these reasons include lack of knowledge about storm surges and lack of financial resources.

In Florida the state agency Florida Division of Emergency Management has developed a website ( to provide residents tools for planning to deal with disasters. Included on the website are links to that give guidelines for developing a home and business plan and list of hurricane supplies. Local and county governments have specific storm surge and evacuation information available online ( Printed flyers are available at local grocery stores, drugstores, and other retail outlets during hurricane season for those populations that do not have computer access. This case study is designed to educate the students about potential dangers from the storm surge and assist them in developing their personal plan for future hurricane threats.

Individuals with expertise/responsibilities in the following areas have helped create the case study:

  • Meteorologists
  • Coastal geologists and engineers
  • State and local emergency management agencies

Key teaching points:

  • Meteorological characteristics of hurricanes
  • Geological characteristics of coastlines
  • Hazards associated with storm surges

How this example is used in the classroom:
Although Hillsborough County is located directly on the west coast of Florida, few students are aware of the potential for storm surge from a hurricane. After a lecture on the hazards associated with hurricanes students are asked to find their home on the Hillsborough County Evacuation Map and determine if they live in an evacuation zone. They are asked to come up a list of hurricane supplies specific to their individual situation and develop a detailed evacuation plan including route. One emphasis of the exercise is to educate the students that if they do need to evacuate they should have an alternative to public shelters. The storm surge generated by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is studied. Differences between the geology of the west-coast of Florida and Louisiana coast are discussed along with how the geology affects storm surge.

Read more about the Hurricane Katrina Flooding Activity


NOAA storm surge overview:

State of Florida hurricane preparation guide:

Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide:

Hillsborough County Hurricane Evacuation Map:

Supporting Files