Contrary to what most people might think, the number one killer from a hurricane is water, not wind. A hurricane warning, however, has always been issued for the wind, not the water.
This conflict of messaging has prompted the National Hurricane Center to re-think their products in recent years. Social science research and upgrades in GIS technology have enabled them to better define where and when the water might be life-threatening, and this is not always at the same location or at the same time the hurricane force winds may arrive.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate called attention to the newly released weather products by NOAA in a recent press conference.
“You can’t focus on the category of a storm to tell us what it’s going to potentially be, as far as risk and hazard. The one hazard that we do know we can do the greatest good to reduce that loss of life is storm surge and evacuating at risk populations...”
According to the National Hurricane Center, water accounts for nearly 80% of all deaths from a tropical storm or hurricane.
New this year is a more “user friendly” map that will highlight the areas at risk of life-threatening conditions from storm surge. These graphics are intended to encourage awareness and evacuations on a much smaller scale and with much greater detail.
“You can look at this graphics, and if you are wanting to convey a message verbally for example, about what can happen in a location that is 20 miles inland from a coast in Florida, this graphics will give you the information of whether this area is at risk of storm surge or not. Whereas in the past we didn't have a good way of communicating that to anyone,” said Dr. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center.
Along with the map, a Storm Surge Watch and Warning will also be introduced this year that is dubbed as “experimental.” Unlike the map that shows potential inundation above ground based on a scientific model, the watch and warning will highlight areas of potential risk that is manually identified by a meteorologist.
Similar to a Hurricane Watch or Warning, the Storm Surge watch and warning will be issued up to 48 hours prior to the predicted onset of life-threatening conditions. Both of these products can be found on the Hurricane Center’s website at “hurricanes-dot-gov” and we will use them extensively during storm coverage from the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.