Hurricane Ian: Why the Gulf Coast — specially in Florida — is so vulnerable to hurricanes, storm surge


The more than 1,200 miles of shores in the southern U.S. that line the Gulf of Mexico are no stranger to robust storms — but that does not make probable destruction from an approaching cyclone any significantly less probable.

As Hurricane Ian marches nearer to the U.S., its aim toward the Gulf Coast is particularly relating to thinking about how susceptible the location is to storm surge, industry experts told ABC Information.

The underwater geology of the Gulf of Mexico is what will make the Gulf Coastline notably unguarded in opposition to the substantial inflow of seawater. The shallow waters in the Gulf, blended with the symmetry of its shallow ocean flooring, are what enable the storm surge to be pushed even increased on to land, Ryan Truchelut, main meteorologist at Temperature Tiger, a consulting and danger administration company, told ABC News.

PHOTO: In this Sept. 16, 2020, file photo, John Terrezza looks out at a flooded street in front of his home as Hurricane Sally passes through the area, in Pensacola, Fla.

In this Sept. 16, 2020, file picture, John Terrezza seems out at a flooded street in entrance of his property as Hurricane Sally passes by means of the area, in Pensacola, Fla.

Joe Raedle/Getty Photographs, FILE

The continental shelf of the Florida Gulf Coast extends really significantly offshore — up to 200 miles in some places, Truchelut reported.

“The waters of the Gulf of Mexico just only are not that deep, more than a ton of the Florida coastal waters just offshore,” he stated. “If there’s wind pushing water toward that course, it’s shallow, it has nowhere to go. So it variety of amplifies and goes more inland.”

Meteorologists are most involved about the west coast of Florida, setting up in the Florida Keys and north to Tampa Bay, Michael Brennan, acting deputy director for the Countrywide Hurricane Center, advised ABC Information.

The Tampa Bay spot is “incredibly sensitive” to storm surge, Brennan reported, including that the region could working experience 5 to 8 feet of inundation — that means previously mentioned ground-stage flooding. The Fort Meyers and Charlotte Harbor places could see 4 to 7 feet and areas farther south could see 3 to 5 ft of inundation, Brennan mentioned.

PHOTO: Hurricane Ian storm surge graphic

An additional rationale why the Gulf of Mexico is specifically vulnerable to hurricanes and storm surge is since of its unique U-formed coastline, which effectively traps a storm technique into a populated area, no issue which way it turns, Truchelut claimed.

“When a hurricane will get into the Gulf of Mexico, it can be really hard for it not to hit someone,” he stated.

The identical geography conundrum also applies on a scaled-down scale to Tampa Bay, which is nearly formed like a cul-de-sac and does not have any place for the h2o that is obtaining pushed all-around to go, Truchelut stated.

“Appropriate now, the way this storm is coming in, you would have this type of force of surge ideal into Tampa Bay and in locations alongside the Gulf, western Gulf Coastline,” Marshall Shepherd, director of the Atmospheric Sciences System at the College of Ga and previous president of the American Meteorological Society, advised ABC Information.

PHOTO: In this Sept. 2, 2016, file photo, law enforcement officers use an airboat to survey damage around homes from high winds and storm surge associated with Hurricane Hermine which made landfall overnight in St. Marks, Fla.

In this Sept. 2, 2016, file picture, regulation enforcement officers use an airboat to study damage about houses from significant winds and storm surge involved with Hurricane Hermine which created landfall overnight in St. Marks, Fla.

Brian Blanco/Getty Photographs, FILE

Though the versions are even now uncertain, Ian will pretty much definitely strike somewhere together the japanese Gulf Coast as a major hurricane, Shepherd explained.

Oftentimes, if a hurricane trapped within just the Gulf of Mexico changes instructions, it exacerbates the menace even far more, Truchelut said. The change in route commonly slows down the storm program, making it possible for much more time for waves to get bigger and head toward the shallow continental shelf, he extra. Ian will most likely stall more than the Tampa Bay area, Shepherd said.

PHOTO: In this Sept. 2, 2016, file photo, Barbara Carroll surveys damage in and around her home from storm surge associated with Hurricane Hermine which made landfall overnight in the area in St. Marks, Fla.

In this Sept. 2, 2016, file photo, Barbara Carroll surveys injury in and close to her residence from storm surge associated with Hurricane Hermine which designed landfall overnight in the space in St. Marks, Fla.

Brian Blanco/Getty Visuals

Ian does not even require to directly influence the Tampa Bay location to do sizeable damage, the professionals mentioned. Even without the need of a immediate hit, the sluggish motion at Ian’s intensity will carry rigorous storm surge, flooding rain and prolonged hurricane-force winds.

In November 2020, Tropical Storm Eta, which experienced downgraded to a weak tropical storm right after generating landfall in Central America as a Class 4 hurricane, caused common flooding in Tampa. The storm produced direct impression about 90 miles north of Tampa, but the 70 mph winds and soaking rain continue to induced bay waters to major seawalls in the location.

“It’d be 1,000 instances worse had it been an genuine important hurricane that was nicely structured,” Truchelut said.

PHOTO: In this July 6, 2021, file photo, determined visitors head for Sloppy Joe's Bar while crossing a flooded Duval Street as heavy winds and rain pass over Key West, Fla., as Tropical Storm Elsa began lashing the Florida Keys.

In this July 6, 2021, file picture, decided website visitors head for Sloppy Joe’s Bar although crossing a flooded Duval Road as major winds and rain move over Critical West, Fla., as Tropical Storm Elsa began lashing the Florida Keys.

Rob O’Neal/The Crucial West Citizen by way of AP, FILE

Because of the way Ian is going, as perfectly as its depth and the truth that it may possibly stall, it sites the Tampa Bay area on what meteorologists connect with “the soiled side of the hurricane” — the ideal front quadrant of the storm, just to the proper of the eye, that commonly has the worst of the winds and storm surge owing to the motion and circulation of the procedure, Shepherd claimed.

A massive worry is that numerous of the regions that flooded in the Tampa Bay location more than 100 several years back will do so all over again and at a greater scale — and this time, populated by hundreds of countless numbers a lot more individuals from the influx of growth that has occurred because, Truchelut claimed. Much of the coastal infrastructure, like condos and houses along the coast, did not exist the very last time a big hurricane directly impacted the location, Shepherd said.

Local climate Central, a nonprofit information group that analyzes and reviews on climate science, has calculated the 100-calendar year flood height in the Tampa Bay area at 6.5 ft. There are much more than 125,000 homes in the region at the moment situated underneath that flood stage.

In this Sept. 16, 2020, file image, a town worker drives through the flooded road through Hurricane Sally in downtown Pensacola, Fla.

Chandan Khanna/AFP by way of Getty Photos, FILE

The experts cautioned inhabitants in Florida to heed evacuation warnings and not to be deterred by the group of the storm or “hurricane amnesia,” because it has been a century due to the fact the area seasoned a big storm.

“We as a modern society have to get accustomed to or utilised to scheduling for the worst, and maybe it won’t materialize,” Shepherd said. “As great as our weather predictive capability is, if not, it even now has some uncertainty with it.”

ABC News’ Max Golembo contributed to this report.

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