I have seen first-hand the damage of several hurricanes. I remember Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005
After one of these hurricanes, and I am saying weeks after, my family went to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We could not go the normal way. When we got to Bay Saint Louis there were concrete sections of the bridge at strange angles. The hurricane had lifted them from below breaking their bolts in the process and dropped then other than flat on their supports. They were tilted. It seemed that most of them had been picked up and dropped. This was the result to the power of waves from below. I was impressed. If water could life a section of a bridge it surly could do major damage.
I still have images of the damage from Hurricane Camille. The storm surge beached three ocean going ships, large ships. They had to be removed, and the only way to do it was to cut them up for scrap. A tug boat came to rest across the highway from the gulf, and a barge washed in and back out several times, destroying buildings.
Heavy damage was done to buildings three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. It was apparent that small offshore islands could mitigate the damage, but where there were gaps in the barrier islands the waves did their worst.
Hurricane Katrina did a similar thing to the twin spans that connect New Orleans to the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. The bridges had to be replace, since one span was too badly damaged to reuse. The other was used temporarily until a new bridge could be constructed that is much higher, with the intent that wave action will not reach it. And, I had to pass a similar bridge replacement due to washing out in Florida, just past Pensacola. It too was replaced with a higher bridge.
After Hurricane Katrina, and it persists today, there are expanses of vacant land on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Homes once stood there, but for about three city blocks from the gulf everything was flattened by storm surge. All that remained was slabs and driveways. It has never rebuilt, probably because insurance is either impossible or too expensive to obtain. One notable structure that remains, even after Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Katrina, is the Biloxi lighthouse.
The destruction done to the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge runs about forty miles.
I also read an account of the hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, in the early 1900s. According to the article I read, which was printed in Waetherwise many years back, homes were built on pilings many feet up. The waves lifted the homes, then used them as battering rams to take the next homes down. Thousands perished. There is no exact count, but between 6,000 and 8,000 is what is usually accepted.
Frank, I had no idea storms were being named in the U. K. I have no idea if Irma is partially or fully Aileen, but storms do cross the Atlantic, and rapidly as they go farther north. I suspect your events are more winter occurrences, and hurricanes summer events.
I had to look up storms being named in the U. K., and found it started only recently. We also have started naming winter storms. Tropical storms have been named for quite some time in both the Atlantic and Pacific, with separate lists. It is a practice that goes beck to WWII when the military named storms, probably after their girlfriends. Now we use both genders.
We in the British Isles have just faced storm Ailleen, which has gusted over the Isles with winds of up to 75 mph in Scotland. This is not the same storm as Irma [and it is definitely not as bad as Irma] ,but can you discern a relationship between the two events?
Thanks for this. You have continued to enlighten me on Physics.
It was once thought to be more significant. Just as one atmosphere, or a column of air over one, supports an equal weight of about 30 inches of mercury, it can support over thirty feet of water. But, the lowest pressure in the Atlantic basin for hurricanes was 882 mb,, where normal is about 1015 mb. Most hurricanes do not have such low pressure. Hurricane Irma has 918 mb at one point, and may have dipped slightly lower, but that is about 1/10 of the atmospheric pressure, or equivalent to about 3 feet of water. Most storms do not have this low of pressure, so only a slight bulge of a foot or two would be expected. And a barometric rise would relax after the storm passed, so it would likely not pile up unless assisted by wind. It would be a minor contributor. Certainly, the pressure drop is there, but less significant than other factors.
Is it not also true that a storm surge can involve the fact that low atmospheric pressure causes the sea surface to rise somewhat?. This I have read was partly responsible for the inundation in Eastern England and the Netherlands caused by the floods of 1953.
In 1953 at a high tide there also came a storm that drove water southwards down the North Sea [so wind and high tide combined] and funneled it into the narrows between Britain and the continent, where not only the channel is narrow, but it is also shallow. The combination of high tide, funneling, wind and storm surge produced devastating floods.
The power of a storm surge is often said, but until one sees large concrete blocks of a bridge moved or houses washed down to slabs its power can easily be underestimated. I heard a person in Florida this weekend say he would sta on the third floor of his house, then realized he had no concept of a house literally falling down. In Hurricane Camille there was a group who stayed in an apartment house to have a hurricane party, only to be washed into Bay Saint Louis. I believe they all perished, about a dozen of them.
Excellent article. In the current problems with hurricanes this article was apt and very informative. I learned significant information about storm surges. They interest me as the East coast of Britain is vulnerable to them in certain weather conditions.