Hurricane Ian brings fears of dangerous storm surge to Florida: How storm surge works

Hurricane Ian is forecast to hit Florida this week.

September 26, 2022, 11:20 AM

Hurricane Ian, forecast to make landfall in Florida this week, is expected to bring a dangerous storm surge of up to 10 feet in Tampa.

In coastal Pinellas County, near Tampa, emergency management director Cathie Perkins warned, "This is no joke -- this is life-threatening storm surge."

 Here's how storm surge works:

As pressure falls in the hurricane's center, water levels rise. The water accumulates while the storm is still over the open ocean.

When the hurricane closes in on land, its strong winds push that water toward the coast and up onto land, creating walls of water sometimes as high as 20 feet.

PHOTO: A satellite handout image shows Hurricane Ian over the Central Caribbean, Sept. 26, 2022.
A satellite handout image shows Hurricane Ian over the Central Caribbean, Sept. 26, 2022.
NOAA/RAMMB/AFP via Getty Images

The danger to people inside houses on the coast is the deluge of water that can flood homes and overpower walls rapidly.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, at least 1,500 people died "directly, or indirectly, as a result of storm surge," the National Hurricane Center said.

PHOTO: An aerial image shows flooded neighborhoods in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 30, 2005.
An aerial image shows flooded neighborhoods in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 30, 2005.
NY Daily News via Getty Images, FILE

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey in 2012, many homes filled quickly with water that reached levels of 8 to 9 feet.

The risks can be even greater if storm surge combines with high tide, creating a devastating, rapid rise in water levels.

Editor's Note: This article on storm surge was initially published in 2018.

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