‘Every storm is different:’ Here’s why you should pay attention to more than just a storm’s category

Water, storm surge not factored into storm scale

Wind gets all of the attention, but it’s the water that kills. Storm surge and freshwater flooding account for 90% of fatalities in tropical systems. The category of the storm is important, but that is just the beginning of the story. The Saffir-Simpson scale gives hurricanes a rating from 1-5, but that rating is based on sustained wind speed alone.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Wind gets all of the attention, but it’s the water that kills. Storm surge and freshwater flooding account for 90% of fatalities in tropical systems. The category of the storm is important, but that is just the beginning of the story.

The Saffir-Simpson scale gives hurricanes a rating from 1-5, but that rating is based on sustained wind speed alone.

[TRENDING: Frontier shares photo of baby delivered mid-flight on plane heading to Orlando | Florida Farm Bureau wants to raise your homeowner’s insurance 49% | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

“So they see a Category 1, they think, ‘Oh, that’s not that bad.’ Or they see a Category 5, like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s really intense.’ It is intense if you’re talking about the wind speed, but a very large Category 1 can produce a much greater storm surge than some very strong Category 1,” National Hurricane Center storm surge specialist Cody Fritz said.

Storm surge is essentially the ocean, or other body of water being pushed inland by the storm. How much depends on the size, speed and wind of each storm.

“Every storm is different, it can provide a different storm surge for us. We provide a different storm surge forecast for every hurricane. And so there are many places along the coastline of more vulnerable than others,” Fritz said.

Because while it is strongest on the coast, storm surge can reach homes and businesses that are miles inland.

“You can have tremendous impacts from Category 1 or 2 hurricanes or tropical storms or even tropical depressions in terms of rainfall, especially in Florida, you can have a slow-moving tropical cyclone, you can dump 25 or 30 inches of rain cause huge flooding impacts,” NHC hurricane specialist Michael Brennan said.

And that flooding can happen almost anywhere in Florida so the time to prepare is now.

“So I think, you know, because there hasn’t been a storm to affect them in a very long time, people become complacent, they’re not used to it,” Fritz said.

To find out your risk and whether or not you live in an evacuation zone, head to clickorlando.com/hurricane.


About the Author:

Jonathan Kegges joined the News 6 team in June 2019 as the Weekend Morning Meteorologist. Jonathan comes from Roanoke, Virginia where he covered three EF-3 tornadoes and deadly flooding brought on by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.