Understanding Hurricane Ian and its Threats

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Hurricane Ian crossed the Caribbean and just emerged north of Cuba on Tuesday afternoon. With the storm seeking to make landfall as a major hurricane, many different impacts are expected to cause widespread damage across most of Florida.

Hurricanes are a global weather phenomenon that presents many risks that can become deadly in an instant. According to the National Hurricane Center, statistics recorded from 1963 to 2012 show that nearly half of all hurricane-related deaths are related to storm surges. In second place are floods with wind, waves and offshore events following close behind.

What is a storm surge? A storm surge occurs whenever ocean water is forced landward due to winds and low pressure from a hurricane above normal tide levels. Many influential factors can affect the height of a storm surge, making them very difficult to predict. Storm intensity based on wind speed is the most important determining factor. The overall directional movement of storms helps determine the size and timing of storm surges. Another influencing factor is the size of the storm relative to its diameter. The last two variables include the angle at which the storm approaches the coast and coastal features such as a bay.

Storm surges can affect an area long before the actual storm arrives. In Ian’s case, surges are expected to reach the southwestern shores of the Florida panhandle up to 36 hours in advance. The first thing that becomes noticeable as the hurricane remains offshore will be a slight increase in tide level above normal.

As the storm moves landward, local winds will increase as the barometric pressure drops significantly. This will cause the tide level to rise dramatically, possibly high enough to cause water to overtake coastal areas in areas low above mean sea level.

Current forecasts show Hurricane Ian producing storm surges of up to 12 feet in areas near Port Charlotte, Florida.

Although dangerous storm surges are expected, rainfall totals across Florida are emerging as the next major threat. Areas near where the hurricane makes landfall may see up to 20 inches of total rain over the next few days. This will cause widespread flooding across the state.

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