FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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 is best known for his work as a street pastor and advocate with Toronto’s homeless population from 2005-2013. He is now a film producer and free-lance writer based in Chicago.

July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail