FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Is the National Hurricane Center Underestimating Irma’s Storm Surge?

In 2015, ten full years after Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) finallybegan making projections in advance regarding potential storm surge. This even though “[s]torm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane,” according to NHC [pdf]. In fact, the “fatalities that we saw in Sandy [117] and in Katrina [1,800+] were mostly, not exclusively but mostly, seawater from storm surge.” Currently, NHC is projecting that many areas along the coast in southern Florida, including in and around Miami, have a 10% or greater chance of a strong storm surge. The worst areas, particularly just north of the Everglades and in Homestead, have a chance to hit the top category (red) of 9+ feet. But is 9+ feet a reasonable high end category?

Hurricane Andrew (1992) saw storm surges in southern Florida of about 4-7 feet in the worst places with one recording (at Burger King Headquarters) of nearly 17 feet, but the worst projections of a massive, deadly surge did not materialize.

In this article Jeffrey Masters, co-founder of The Weather Underground and a former“Hurricane Hunter” with NOAA, helpfully discusses the key factors that determine the magnitude of a particular storm surge during a hurricane. The critical factor is size of the hurricane, rather than the two more well-known factors of wind speed and barometric pressure. Masters compares Hurricane Katrina (a category 3 hurricane upon land fall) and the much stronger Hurricane Camille (category 5, also a land fall in Louisiana, 1969). Even though two categories less intense on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, “Katrina’s radius of maximum winds was about 30 miles, double Camille’s,” and “Katrina set in motion a volume of water about four times greater than Camille did.”

So how does Hurricane Irma compare to Hurricane Andrew in terms of size? Quite frighteningly so, actually. While other factors (such as high tide or low tide at land fall, where direct land fall actually occurs, and the level of barometric pressure when it hits) will contribute to the storm surge levels, it is the massive difference between Andrew (left in this graphic) versus Irma (right) that is giving me a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. (I had been scheduled to officiate a wedding in Miami this Saturday.)
Officials in Florida have used the storm surge projections to determine where to suggest or mandate evacuation. If the surge is like Sandy’s (10-12 feet in the worst spots), the NHC projections of 9+ feet at the upper end of the scale may seem quite justified. If, however, the monster size of Irma means a surge more like Katrina’s, nearly 28 feet at it’s highest as discussed by Masters, we may be looking a scale of devastation and loss of life that will raise very serious questions about whether adequate and accurate information was provided in advance to decision makers in Florida.

As of Tuesday, according to Masters, Irma’s radius of maximum winds was 35 miles across, five miles wider than Katrina’s, and growing. This could very well mean a storm surge of 15-20 feet or more for Florida, potentially more than double the 9 feet that begins NHC’s highest category.

At this point, we may only be able to hope and pray for the best. However, if you are reading this in southern Florida ahead of Irma’s land fall and can still make a choice to evacuate, it is highly advisable.

More articles by:

Doug Johnson Hatlem writes on polling, elections data, and politics. For questions, comments, or to inquire about syndicating this weekly column for the 2020 cycle in your outlet, he can be contacted on Twitter @djjohnso (DMs open) or at djjohnso@yahoo.com (subject line #10at10 Election Column).

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 07, 2020
Marc Haggerty
Class and COVID-19: Those Who Can and Those Who Can’t
Manuel García, Jr.
A Reply to Jeffrey St. Clair’s “Strange Things Happening Every Day”
George Wuerthner
How Fuel Breaks Fuel Fires
Marshall Sahlins
Election 2020
April 06, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 and the Failures of Capitalism
W. T. Whitney
Donald Trump, Capitalism, and Letting Them Die
Cesar Chelala
Cuba’s Promising Approach to Cancer
David A. Schultz
Camus and Kübler-Ross in a Time of COVID-19 and Trump
Nomi Prins 
Wall Street Wins, Again: Bailouts in the Time of Coronavirus
Dean Baker
Getting to Medicare-for-All, Eventually
Dave Lindorff
Neither Pandemic Nor Economic Collapse is Going to Be a Short-Lived Crisis
Sonali Kolhatkar
Capitalism in America Has Dropped the Mask: Its Face is Cruel and Selfish
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 7 Pro-Contagion Reversals Increase the Coronavirus Toll
David Swanson
A Department of Actual Defense in a Time of Coronavirus
Ellen Brown
Was the Fed Just Nationalized?
Jeff Birkenstein
Postcards From Trump
Nick Licata
Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image
Kathy Kelly
“He’s Got Eight Numbers, Just Like Everybody Else”
Graham Peebles
Change Love and the Need for Unity
Kim C. Domenico
Can We Transform Fear to Strength In A Time of Pandemic?
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Files Lawsuit to Stop Logging and Burning Project in Rocky Mountain Front Inventoried Roadless Area
Stephen Cooper
“The Soul Syndicate members dem, dem are all icons”: an Interview with Tony Chin
Weekend Edition
April 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Omar Shaban
Gaza’s New Conflict: COVID-19
Rob Urie
Work, Crisis and Pandemic
John Whitlow
Slumlord Capitalism v. Global Pandemic
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Strange Things Happening Every Day
Jonathan Cook
The Bigger Picture is Hiding Behind a Virus
Paul Street
Silver Linings Amidst the Capitalist Coronavirus Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Control of Nature
Louis Proyect
COVID-19 and the “Just-in-Time” Supply Chain: Why Hospitals Ran Out of Ventilators and Grocery Stores Ran Out of Toilet Paper
Kathleen Wallace
The Highly Contagious Idea
Kenneth Good
The Apartheid Wars: Non-Accountability and Freedom for Perpetrators.
Andrew Levine
Democracy in America: Sorry, But You Can’t Get There from Here.
Ramzy Baroud
Tunisia Leads the Way: New Report Exposes Israel’s False Democracy
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the State-of-Emergency Pandemic
Matthew Stevenson
Will Trump Cancel the Election? Will the Democrats Dump Joe?
Ron Jacobs
Seattle—Anti-Capitalist Hotbed
Michael T. Klare
Avenger Planet: Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Mother Nature’s Response to Human Transgression?
Jack Rasmus
COVID-19 and the Forgotten Working Class
Werner Lange
The Madness of More Nukes and Less Rights in Pandemic Times
J.P. Linstroth
Why a Race is Not a Virus and a Virus is Not a Race
John Feffer
We Need a Coronavirus Truce
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”: the Ultimate Floating Signifier
Victor Grossman
Corona and What Then?
Katie Fite
Permanent Pandemic on Public Lands: Welfare Sheep Ranchers and Their Enablers Hold the West’s Bighorns Hostage
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail