Read the full story in the Washington Post.
Because so much water is involved, surges are frequently a hurricane’s deadliest symptom. Many of the estimated 1,500 deaths from Hurricane Katrina could be attributed to the storm surge along the Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center. In Mississippi, the surge achieved “historical proportions,” with the highest elevation marked at more than 28 feet.
Two major factors control how a storm surges: the strength of a hurricane’s wind and the shape of the coastline. The Atlantic continental shelf is relatively flat, affording a hurricane there more shallow water that it can push into a surge. What’s more, the counterclockwise rotation of the hurricane’s northeast quadrant shoves the water toward land instead of away from it, Balaguru said.
Predicting a storm surge is difficult. Even slight changes in the hurricane’s center and strongest winds can influence its path, explained Rebecca E. Morss, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.