New prototype storm surge warnings to be issued during 2013 hurricane season

Coastal areas at greatest risk of flooding will be warned

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - Tropical Storm Andrea soaked Central Florida adding several inches in our rain bucket.

Over on the gulf coast, it was a much different scene. They saw major flooding which could increase over the next couple of days.

That flooding is thanks to the storm surge -- which is forecast to go as high as 4 feet.

When it comes to hurricanes most people think about the wind, but we should really fear the water. When a hurricane hits, more people die and more damage is done because of flooding.

But now, a new warning being used this season could save lives.

If you think storm surge is only an issue along the coast, you're wrong. Hurricanes can push water well inland with devastating consequences.

Superstorm Sandy was proof of that. The storm tracked up the east coast, coming ashore just north of Atlantic City with an incredible storm surge felt a hundred miles up the northeast coast.

Storm surge is a rise in sea level when water is pushed toward land by wind.

We can expect an experimental version of an easy-to-read warning map sometime this season and expanded new storm surge watches and warnings by 2015.

Jamie Rhome is the storm surge specialist for the National Hurricane Center. He said we're used to talking about hurricanes based on wind speeds, but the new storm surge warnings won't use categories.

"Surge does not neatly lend itself to a scale," said Rhome. "Plus, we already have a scale for storm surge called feet. One, two, three, four, five and so forth."

Storm surge forecasts will extend beyond the familiar cone used to predict where a hurricane will come ashore.

It's possible and, in fact likely, that storm surge could be at its worst beyond the hurricane's forecast track. So when storms brew, forecasters will update the color-coded map four times daily.

For Central Florida, it's critical the forecast be hyper local.

On the state's gulf side, the gentle slope of the continental shelf means greater threat for high surge.

By contrast, the Atlantic coast's continental shelf drop sharply, which means the surge potential is less, but large damaging waves are possible.

The storm surge forecast will be experimental this year with hopes for something more standard to come 2015.

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