Hurricane Ian: Why the Gulf Coast — specifically in Florida — is so at risk of hurricanes, typhoon surge

Hurricane Ian may want to convey among five and eight ft of typhoon surge to Tampa Bay.


The greater than 1,2 hundred miles of beaches withinside the southern U.S. that line the Gulf of Mexico aren’t anyt any stranger to robust storms — however that does not make ability harm from an coming near cyclone any much less probably.

As Hurricane Ian marches in the direction of the U.S., its goal closer tos the Gulf Coast is specifically regarding thinking about how inclined the area is to typhoon surge, professionals informed ABC News.

The underwater geology of the Gulf of Mexico is what makes the Gulf Coast specially unguarded towards the big inflow of seawater. The shallow waters withinside the Gulf, blended with the symmetry of its shallow ocean floor, are what permit the typhoon surge to be driven even better onto land, Ryan Truchelut, leader meteorologist at Weather Tiger, a consulting and chance control firm, informed ABC News.

The continental shelf of the Florida Gulf Coast extends pretty a ways offshore — as much as 2 hundred miles in a few spots, Truchelut said.

“The waters of the Gulf of Mexico simply actually are not that deep, over a variety of the Florida coastal waters simply offshore,” he said. “If there is wind pushing water closer tos that course, it is shallow, it has nowhere to go. So it sort of amplifies and is going similarly inland.”

Meteorologists are maximum involved approximately the west coast of Florida, beginning withinside the Florida Keys and north to Tampa Bay, Michael Brennan, appearing deputy director for the National Hurricane Center, informed ABC News.

The Tampa Bay place is “extraordinarily sensitive” to typhoon surge, Brennan said, including that the area may want to enjoy five to eight ft of inundation — which means above ground-stage flooding. The Fort Meyers and Charlotte Harbor regions may want to see four to 7 ft and areas farther south may want to see three to five ft of inundation, Brennan said.

Another motive why the Gulf of Mexico is specifically at risk of hurricanes and typhoon surge is due to its precise U-fashioned coastline, which basically traps a typhoon gadget right into a populated area, regardless of which manner it turns, Truchelut said.

“When a typhoon receives into the Gulf of Mexico, it is difficult for it now no longer to hit somebody,” he said.

The identical geography conundrum additionally applies on a smaller scale to Tampa Bay, which is sort of fashioned like a cul-de-sac and would not have everywhere for the water it really is getting driven round to go, Truchelut said.

“Right now, the manner this typhoon is coming in, you would have this type of push of surge proper into Tampa Bay and in areas alongside the Gulf, western Gulf Coast,” Marshall Shepherd, director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program on the University of Georgia and previous president of the American Meteorological Society, informed ABC News.

Although the fashions are nonetheless uncertain, Ian will nearly actually strike someplace alongside the japanese Gulf Coast as a prime typhoon, Shepherd said.

Oftentimes, if a typhoon trapped withinside the Gulf of Mexico adjustments directions, it exacerbates the danger even greater, Truchelut said. The extrade in course usually slows down the typhoon gadget, permitting greater time for waves to get larger and head closer tos the shallow continental shelf, he added. Ian will probably stall over the Tampa Bay area, Shepherd said.

Ian does now no longer even want to immediately effect the Tampa Bay area to do substantial harm, the professionals said. Even with out an immediate hit, the gradual motion at Ian’s depth will convey extreme typhoon surge, flooding rain and extended typhoon-pressure winds.

In November 2020, Tropical Storm Eta, which had downgraded to a vulnerable tropical typhoon after making landfall in Central America as a Category four typhoon, prompted sizable flooding in Tampa. The typhoon made direct effect approximately ninety miles north of Tampa, however the 70 mph winds and soaking rain nonetheless prompted bay waters to pinnacle seawalls withinside the place.

“It’d be 1,000 instances worse had it been an real main typhoon that changed into properly organized,” Truchelut said.

Because of the manner Ian is moving, in addition to its depth and the truth that it can stall, it locations the Tampa Bay area on what meteorologists call “the grimy facet of the typhoon” — the proper the front quadrant of the typhoon, simply to the proper of the eye, that usually has the worst of the winds and typhoon surge because of the movement and circulate of the gadget, Shepherd said.

A big challenge is that some of the regions that flooded withinside the Tampa Bay area greater than one hundred years in the past will accomplish that once more and at a extra scale — and this time, populated via way of means of loads of hundreds greater humans from the inflow of improvement that has came about since, Truchelut said. Much of the coastal infrastructure, along with condos and houses alongside the coast, did now no longer exist the ultimate time a prime typhoon immediately impacted the area, Shepherd said.

Climate Central, a nonprofit information employer that analyzes and reviews on weather science, has calculated the one hundred-12 months flood peak withinside the Tampa Bay place at 6.five ft. There are greater than 125,000 houses withinside the area presently located beneath that flood stage.

The professionals recommended citizens in Florida to heed evacuation warnings and now no longer to be deterred via way of means of the class of the typhoon or “typhoon amnesia,” because it has been a century because the area skilled a prime typhoon.

“We as a society need to get aware of or used to making plans for the worst, and perhaps it would not happen,” Shepherd said. “As right as our climate predictive functionality is, if now no longer, it nonetheless has a few uncertainty with it.”

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