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Storm Surge

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Hurricanes have caused billions of dollars of property damage. Your challenge is to determine which land and storm features impact the damage caused by a hurricane that strikes land in a populated region. You will use a simulation to change the power of a hurricane and ultimately find ways that storm damage can be reduced in a coastal area.

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

Storm Surge Brochure

Storm Surge Brochure

What is a hurricane?

A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the North Atlantic Ocean, Northeast Pacific Ocean, or the South Pacific Ocean and has winds of 74 miles per hour or more. A tropical cyclone is a low pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with thunderstorm activity and circulation.

What causes damage when a hurricane strikes land?

The winds from the hurricane inflict the most damage when a hurricane makes landfall. Flooding can occur due to a combination of rain and the storm surge. In addition, if there is too much rain in a short time period, the ground can become saturated and does not anchor trees solidly making it easier for trees to be blown over by the wind.

How are hurricanes measured?

Hurricanes are measured on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, which ranks hurricanes intensity based on their wind speed, with a category 1 hurricane being the most mild and a category 5 hurricane being the most severe. The wind speeds for each category are as follows:
Category Wind Speed (mph)
1 74-95
2 96-110
3 111-129
4 130-156
5 157+

What causes ocean tides?

The gravitational forces of the sun and the moon, and the rotation of Earth cause ocean tides. Most places on Earth have two high tides and two low tides per day. The high tides happen about 12 hours apart.

What is a storm surge?

A storm surge is a rise in water level in a coastal region as a result of a storm. The storm surge is how much higher the water level is during the storm than it usually with the normal tides. Storm surge is a result of the storm winds pushing water towards land. The low pressure of the storm has a very small effect on the surge, but for the most part storm surge is the direct result of the winds. The storm surge of a hurricane is the most lethal aspect of the storm.

What affects the height of a storm surge?

The height of a storm surge can vary greatly depending on the conditions of the storm and the geographic features of the coastal area. The size, speed, shape, and pressure of the storm, as well as the angle that it approaches land all have an effect on the size of the surge. The width and depth of the continental shelf also have an effect on the size of the surge. A wide and shallow shelf will produce a much higher storm surge than a narrow and deep shelf.

What is a storm tide?

The total height of the water due to normal tides and the storm surge is called the storm tide. The size and timing of the normal tides, the size of the storm surge and the size of the waves all affect the storm tide. If a large storm surge with large waves hits land during high tide, the storm tide can reach as high as 20 feet or higher.
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