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New storm surge watches and warnings saved lives

December 5, 2017 The 2017 hurricane season – with 17 named storms, including three Category 4 hurricanes that made landfall in the United States – was one for the record books. It was also the first year that NOAA’s National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center issued storm surge watches & warnings along the continental U.S coast.
A debris-filled waterway in Key West, Florida shows the destructive power of Hurricane Irma's storm surge

In spite of this extremely active season, preliminary information shows there were no storm-surge related deaths in the United States. This is a significant contrast to 2012 when storm surge from Sandy took 41 lives, more than half of all fatalities.

Storm surge is the leading cause of fatalities in tropical cyclones

What’s behind this notable change? It’s likely because the public understood the potential dangers from storm surge and took the appropriate steps to stay safe. This was not an overnight success story. For more than 10 years, the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service have been developing the new storm surge watch/warning products, in close cooperation with emergency managers, social scientists, the media and the public. And, there was immense public and media attention on the development of these warnings before they even became operational this year. This visibility and awareness put storm surge on everybody’s minds, people were thinking and talking about the dangers posed by water more than ever before.

The hurricane center’s storm surge watches and warnings provided vital information about where and when life-threatening inundation could strike. This included easy to understand graphics that clearly showed the areas in harm's way.

Hurricane Irma storm surge graphic issued for Florida on Sept. 9, 2017
Hurricane Irma storm surge graphic issued for Florida on Sept. 9, 2017 (NOAA)

The new storm surge warning system is currently in place for the continental United States from Texas to Maine. Continued improvements will be made and plans call for expanding coverage to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Hawaii in years to come. Reflecting on this hurricane season, the storm surge warnings helped save lives as they were designed to do.

More information about storm surge is available from the National Hurricane Center.