What are storm surges and how do they form in tropical storms?

Weather For Kids

A storm surge can result in catastrophic flooding that can send entire houses and buildings underwater

(WKBN) – Storm surge is the most destructive force that causes damage within hurricanes and tropical cyclones.

Storm surge is defined as an abnormal rise of water over and above predicted tide levels. Tropical cyclones can produce a massive amount of damage from the surge floodwaters.

However, storm surge is not related to the amount of rain that falls within a storm. The cyclone itself creates a “wall” of water in the direction of the storm motion toward shore. The intense wind pushes water upward, which piles on top of the water ahead of it, causing the water to stack up or rise.

The intense low pressure of the storm also influences this stack of water by pulling it upward a bit more due to the pressure difference between the surface of the water and the center of the storm.

As the cyclone approaches shore, the water gets higher and higher, often pushing over sand dunes or human-made flood protection, such as levees. This results in catastrophic flooding that can send entire houses and buildings underwater, usually destroying these structures.

The height of peak storm surge depends on how close the cyclone is to shore and the strength of the storm. Landfalling major hurricanes will produce the greatest storm surge compared to a weaker tropical storm or a hurricane that stays out to sea. That said, cyclones that stay offshore but still come close to land and produce a damaging surge.

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