Storm Surge Warnings

Storm surge warning and forecast is one of the many topics up for discussion at next week’s National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. Ahead of this year’s hurricane season and following the impact of Hurricane Ike along the Texas coast last September, this is an important debate. Over at Weather Underground, Dr. Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog reports that the National Hurricane Center (NHC) is considering removing any mention of storm surge from the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane scale (wind speed is the determining factor in the current scale, though flooding is included as well). The change is a step towards separate storm surge warnings which the NHC is apparently considering. Hurricane Ike may have reignited the debate, but storm surge has long presented the greatest threat to loss of life in a hurricane to say nothing of potential property damage.

An NHC report notes that storm surge losses in the hundreds of thousands of lives have occurred in every coastal state from Texas to South Carolina, and in some states north (e.g. the New England hurricane of 1938). Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is a recent example of enormous loss of life and property associated with storm surge. From the insurance perspective, any distinction that can be made between wind and storm surge will be welcome. Homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover damage from flooding or storm surge. Flood insurance policies, available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) pay for losses caused by flooding or other forms of rising water such as storm surge. Yet a 2008 I.I.I. poll found that only 17 percent of Americans have a flood insurance policy. Check out further I.I.I. information on flood insurance.

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