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Hazards - Storm Surge
Overview of the Hazard
Storm surge is the abnormal rise above the normal water level along a shore caused by strong onshore winds and/or reduced atmospheric pressure. The surge height is the difference of the observed water level minus the predicted tide. Storm surge can be 50 or more miles wide and sweeps across the coastline around where a hurricane makes landfall. The storm surge may double, or more, in height when the hurricane's track causes it to funnel water into a bay.
Storm Surge Quick Facts
- Storm surge should not be confused with storm tide, which is defined as the water level rise due to the combination of storm surge and the astronomical tide.
- Storm surge is caused primarily by the strong winds in a hurricane or tropical storm.
- Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. It poses a significant threat for drowning. A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult. It takes only two feet of rushing water to carry away most vehicles—including pickups and SUVs.
- Storm surge can cause water levels to rise quickly and flood large areas—sometimes in just minutes, and you could be left with no time to take action if you haven’t already evacuated as instructed.
- Storm surge values do not correspond well to the hurricane wind categories (of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) that range from 1 to 5. These categories are based only on winds and do not account for storm surge.
- Tropical storms, category 1 or 2 hurricanes, major (category 3 to 5) hurricanes, and post-tropical cyclones can all cause life-threatening storm surge.
- Storm surge can also occur with non-tropical storms like Nor’easters and other winter storms.
- Storm surge can occur before, during, or after the center of a storm passes through an area. Storm surge can sometimes cut off evacuation routes, so do not delay leaving if an evacuation is ordered for your area.
- During the peak of a storm surge event, it is unlikely that emergency responders will be able to reach you if you are in danger.
- Even if your community is not directly affected by storm surge, it could experience other hazards from the storm and face dangerous conditions such as impassable roads, water and sewage problems, and power outages. If power remains on, downed electrical wires can pose an electrocution risk.
- Weather conditions and the forecast can change. Local officials could issue evacuation or other instructions for many reasons. Always follow the instructions of local officials.
The greatest threats posed by a hurricane or a tropical storm to Brevard County are storm surge along the barrier islands. The extent of storm surge could impact all of the barrier island communities, as well as the Indian River Lagoon System from the Sebastian River Inlet, along Melbourne up to Cocoa, and northward past Titusville; and including the Banana River shoreline to the county’s northern boundary. Additional potential effects of storm surge damage to Brevard County are listed below:
- Water damage to homes, businesses, and coastal lands; and inland flooding.
- The combination of high tides and wind action can create coastal flooding and saltwater inundation of the barrier islands.
- Thousands of structures within these areas would be vulnerable to storm surge and accompanying wave action through a range of impacts, including erosion of the sand beneath the structure causing it to collapse, physical pressure that would damage the structure or move it off its foundation, and/or receive inundation from surge.
- Mobile and manufactured home parks on the barrier islands could see devastating impacts due to storm surge. These mobile and manufactured homes could be moved off of their supports, impacting roadways and other residences in the vicinity.
Historical events include:
- Hurricane David (September 3, 1979) brought a storm surge of only 2 to 4 feet, due to its lack of strengthening and the obtuse angle at which it hit.
- Hurricane Erin (1995) generated a 2 to 4 feet of storm tide during the Florida east coast landfall.
- 2004 Hurricane Frances produced storm surge around 8 feet near Sebastian Inlet and 6 feet in Cocoa Beach.
- Hurricane Jeanne which produced a storm surge of 3.8 feet above normal astronomical tide levels. Storm surge of up to 6 feet above normal tides likely occurred along the Florida east coast from the vicinity of Melbourne southward to Fort Pierce.
- Tropical Storm Fay was an extreme rainfall event breaking a 50-year record in 2008 with 27.65 inches of rain as recorded in Melbourne, it produced minimal storm surge of 1-2 feet above National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD).
- In 2012, storms Beryl, Sandy and Debby brought additional surge on top of the astronomical high tides as recorded at the Trident Pier in Port Canaveral.
- October 26, 2012, Hurricane Sandy had the worst effect on the coast of Brevard bringing an additional 2.49 feet to the high tide.
What Would You Do?
Know Your Maps, Know Your Zone!
- The Potential Storm Surge Flooding map is different from FEMA flood insurance rate maps and hurricane evacuation zone maps.
- You do not have to live in a floodplain to experience storm surge from a hurricane or other storm.
- Evacuation zones can be established for many public safety reasons and differ from the areas shown on this map. Find out today if you live in a hurricane evacuation zone!
If you live in a storm surge zone and an evacuation order has been issued – evacuate when it is safe! First responders will not be able to reach you during the emergency, if it is unsafe to travel. Do not put yourself and others in harm’s way - evacuate early.
- Stay informed of road conditions.
- Stay away from floodwaters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around, and go another way. Six inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you off your feet. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood danger.
- Keep children out of the water. They are curious and often lack judgment about running water or contaminated water.
- If you come upon a flooded road while driving, do not attempt to cross flowing water. Turn around don’t drown. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water.
- Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded and watch out for debris. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways.
- Avoid standing water as it may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.
Brevard County Emergency Management Office
1746 Cedar Street
Rockledge, Florida 32955
Tel: (321) 637-6670
Fax: (321) 633-1738