This is the sort of storm surge flooding map that would be produced if a hurricane threatened the Fort Myers, Fla., area. / National Hurricane Center
Detailed maps of projected storm surge flooding â?? typically the deadliest and most destructive part of hurricanes â?? will be coming this season for the first time from the National Hurricane Center.
The maps will be created for areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts at risk of storm surge from an approaching tropical storm or hurricane. The six-month hurricane season begins June 1.
"The maps will show the exact areas where inundation from storm surge could occur and how high above ground the water could reach in those areas," said hurricane center spokesman Dennis Feltgen.
Though forecasts call for a quieter-than-average season, all it takes is one hurricane making landfall to wreak havoc and destruction.
Storm surge - the massive mound of water that builds up and comes ashore as a hurricane moves over the ocean or Gulf of Mexico - is the single biggest killer in hurricanes.
Most of the 1,200 deaths in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were caused by storm surge, according to the hurricane center.
Surge is typically the most destructive: In Hurricane Sandy in 2012, storm surge-induced flooding was measured as high as 9 feet above ground in parts of New York and New Jersey, leading to billions of dollars in damages.
The damage occurred despite the fact that Sandy was the equivalent only of a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, with winds of about 80 mph, and was downgraded below hurricane status shortly after that. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale categories - which go from Category 1 to 5 and measure only wind speed - are not a good indicator of storm surge risk.
"Tropical storms, category 1 or 2 hurricanes, major hurricanes ... all can cause life-threatening storm surge," according to the hurricane center.
Every coastal city along the Gulf or Atlantic coasts of the USA is at risk of storm surge, the hurricane center said, including areas several miles inland.
Storm surge flooding does not include floods caused by the heavy rain from the hurricane.
Feltgen said the first storm surge map usually will be issued at the same time as the initial hurricane watch or, in some cases, tropical storm watch. The map is based on the latest forecast track and intensity for the tropical storm or hurricane and takes into account likely forecast errors.
Several factors influence the amount of surge a storm will produce. They include the site of landfall; storm intensity, size, forward speed and angle of approach to the coast; the shape of the coastline; the width and slope of the ocean bottom; and local features such as barrier islands, bays and rivers.
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