Storm Surge - Measuring Surge

Measuring Surge

Surge can be measured directly at coastal tidal stations as the difference between the forecast tide and the observed rise of water. Another method of measuring surge is by the deployment of pressure transducers along the coastline just ahead of an approaching tropical cyclone. This was first tested for Hurricane Rita in 2005. These types of sensors can be placed in locations that will be submerged, and can accurately measure the height of water above them.

After surge from a cyclone has receded, teams of surveyors map high water marks (HWM) on land, in a rigorous and detailed process that includes photos and written descriptions of the marks. HWM denote the location and elevation of flood waters from a storm event. When HWM are analyzed, if the various components of the water height can be broken out so that the portion attributable to surge can be identified, then that mark can be classified as storm surge. Otherwise, it is classified as storm tide. HWM on land are referenced to a vertical datum (a reference coordinate system). During evaluation, HWM are divided into four categories based on the confidence in the mark; only HWM evaluated as "excellent" are used by NHC in post storm analysis of the surge.

Two different measures are used for storm tide and storm surge measurements. Storm tide is measured using a geodetic vertical datum (NGVD 29 or NAVD 88). Since storm surge is defined as the rise of water beyond what would be expected by the normal movement due to tides, storm surge is measured using tidal predictions, with the assumption that the tide prediction is well-known and only slowly varying in the region subject to the surge. Since tides are a localized phenomenon, storm surge can only be measured in relationship to a nearby tidal station. Tidal bench mark information at a station provides a translation from the geodetic vertical datum to mean sea level (MSL) at that location, then subtracting the tidal prediction yields a surge height above the normal water height.

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