Quiet in the Atlantic; lessons learned from Hurricane Hugo's storm surge

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:35 PM GMT on September 21, 2009

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The tropical disturbance (98L), midway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles Islands, has grown weak and disorganized. No development of this disturbance is likely to occur.

The remains of Hurricane Fred are still kicking up heavy thunderstorms about 400 miles east of the Georgia-Florida border. Fred-ex's circulation has become ill-defined, as seen in last night's QuikSCAT pass. Fred-ex is under about 20 knots of wind shear, and this shear is expected to remain about the same over the next two days. Fred-ex will be moving ashore Tuesday night or Wednesday along a stretch of coast from Florida to North Carolina, bringing heavy rains to some areas. There is too much wind shear and dry air, and not enough time, for Fred-ex to develop into a tropical depression. I don't expect it to cause any flooding problems when it moves ashore.


Figure 1. Morning visible satellite image of Fred-ex, 400 miles east of Florida.

Twenty years ago today
On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo began the day as a minimum-strength Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. But as a strong trough of low pressure turned the hurricane to the north and accelerated Hugo to a forward speed of 25 mph, the storm took advantage of low wind shear and warm ocean waters to begin a period of rapid intensification. As darkness fell on the 21st, Hugo had grown to huge Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds. Its target: the South Carolina coast near Charleston, at Sullivan's Island. At 11:57 pm on the 21st, Hugo made landfall on Sullivan's Island. It was the strongest hurricane on record to hit South Carolina, and the second strongest hurricane (since reliable records began in 1851) to hit the U.S. East Coast north of Florida. Only Hurricane Hazel of 1954 (Category 4, 140 mph winds) was stronger.


Figure 2. AVHRR visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 21, 1989. Hugo had intensified to a formidable Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds.

On Isle of Palms, a barrier island adjacent to Sullivan's Island, the mayor and several police officers were sheltering in a 2-story building which lay at an elevation of ten feet. As related in a story published in the St. Petersburg Times, they heard the following bulletin on the radio at 10:30pm the night Hugo made landfall:

"The National Weather Service has issued a storm surge update. It appears that the storm surge will be greater than anticipated. It is now expected to reach a height of 17 to 21 feet."

"Mom didn't raise an idiot," said the one cop with the most sense, and he convinced the others to get off the island. They left the island by driving at 5 mph through horizontal sheets of rain and hurricane-force wind gusts over the Ben Sawyer Bridge, which connected Sullivan's Island to the mainland. As they crossed onto the bridge, they passed over a large bump--the bridge and road bed were at different levels. Not good. While crossing the bridge, they could feel it swaying and straining, and heard the sound of metal, twisting and grinding and breaking. They made it, but only barely--minutes later, the hurricane tore the center span of the bridge from its connection on both ends, leaving it a twisted ruin in the bay.


Figure 3. The Ben Sawyer Bridge connecting Sullivan's Island to Charleston, South Carolina, after Hurricane Hugo. Image credit: NOAA Photo Library.

Hugo's storm surge
In McClellanville, on the coast thirty miles northeast of Charleston, between 500 - 1100 people took refuge at the designated shelter for the region, Lincoln High School. Lincoln High is a one-story school, mostly constructed of cinder block, located on the east side of Highway 17, and was believed to be at an altitude of twenty feet. McClellanville is about 4 - 5 miles inland from the open ocean, but lies on the Intracoastal Waterway, so is vulnerable to high storm surges. Near midnight on the 21st, a storm surge of twenty feet poured into Bulls Bay just south of McClellanville, and funneled into the narrow Intracoastal Waterway. Water started pouring into the high school and rose fairly rapidly. Within minutes, people were wading around up to their waists, the water still rising. In the school cafeteria, many refugees gathered on a stage at one end, putting children up on tables. The elevated stage kept them above water; others floated in the water. Another group was in the band room, which had a much lower ceiling than the cafeteria. They had to stand on desks and push out the ceiling tiles for more breathing room, as the water rose within 1 - 2 feet of the ceiling. Fortunately, Hugo's storm surge peaked at that time, at about 16 - 17 feet (Figure 4), and the people sheltering at Lincoln High were spared.


Figure 4. Estimated storm surge (height above ground) as estimated by NOAA's storm surge model, SLOSH. McClellanville (upper right) received a storm surge estimated at 16 - 17 feet.

According to Dr. Stephen Baig, the retired head of the NHC storm surge unit, the back-story is this: To build Lincoln High School, which lies at an altitude of ten feet, the local school board used the same plans that were drawn up for another school that is west of Highway 17, and that IS at 20 feet elevation. Not only the same plans, the same set of working drawings. Those working drawings showed a surveyed elevation of 20 feet above datum (probably NGVD29). Apparently Lincoln High was constructed either without benefit of elevation survey or the plans were not annotated with its site elevation. When the Red Cross inquired as to its utility as an evacuation site, whoever looked at the plans saw the surveyed elevation at 20 feet. That is what the Red Cross published. That is why the school was a designated shelter. Since that near-tragedy, the Red Cross requires a new elevation survey for every potential storm shelter. I think that at the time this was discovered all the designated shelters also were re-surveyed, just to be sure that no similar Lincoln High problems were waiting to happen.

Only one person died from Hugo's storm surge, a woman who sheltered in her mobile home that got struck by the surge. Her death was one of only ten deaths that have occurred due to storm surge in the U.S. in the 35 years between 1969 - 2005 (after the 100+ storm surge deaths due to Hurricane Camille of 1969, and before the 1000+ storm surge deaths due to Hurricane Katrina). This amazingly low death toll can be attributed to four factors:

1) Greater understanding of the storm surge and better storm surge forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center, thanks to such tools as the SLOSH storm surge model.
2) The excellent job NWS/NHC/FEMA and state and local Emergency Managers have done educating the public on the potential surge they can expect.
3) The success local government has had making evacuations of low-lying areas work.
4) Luck. The 20+ storm surge deaths on the Bolivar Peninsula in 2008 from Hurricane Ike show that there are still plenty of stubborn, unlucky, or uneducated people who will die when a significant storm surge hits a low-lying populated coast. The storm surge from the next major hurricane that sweeps through the Florida Keys is likely to cause a lot of storm surge deaths, since many residents there are pretty stubborn about not evacuating.

Kudos and links
I thank Ken Bass for providing the details on the Lincoln High storm surge near-disaster. Ken is working on a book on Hurricane Hugo, and has written a very readable book I plan to review later this year, about a fictional Category 4 hurricane hitting New York City.

Hurricanes-blizzards-noreasters.com has a web page with links to tons of Hurricane Hugo stories. Included are links to YouTube videos of a "Rescue 911" episode that interviewed survivors of the Lincoln High storm surge scare. The show also did a re-creation of the event.

Our Historical storm surge page has SLOSH model storm surge animations of Hurricane Hugo's landafall, as well as of 39 other famous hurricanes.

Tomorrow: I'll wrap up my series on Hurricane Hugo.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting zoomiami:
If any of you have looked at the link that Dr. Masters posted hurricanes-blizzards-noreaster.com, they have lots of different storms on their page.

I have just spent the better part of an hour watching the videos they have on Andrew. If any of you are interested in what the aftermath was like, they have the best collection of photos and videos I've seen. Very eery to watch the reports leading up to the storm, to see Max Mayfield telling us what to expect, and see the reports from during the storm.


These sights still send chills up my spine. I wish someone had taken pics and videos of the tent cities that were set up. Was something to behold.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
btw, speaking of hugo.. i lived on peas island. not really an island, but near folly beach,, was a waiter on the pier,, cannot remember the name,, had the best shecrab soup,, u ever ate,,
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Quoting Weather456:
I expect little from Fred as he heads into the GA/SC area over the upcoming week. Warm ssts yes but unfavorable upper winds forecasted to impact Fred which should moderate development.

Also I have seen the sat images of Fred and I wouldnt call that a comeback.
totally agree in the latset he's real sick
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 263
At 22:22 UTC
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
Quoting will40:


well it shows the QuikSCAT pass


and
There is not even Windsat data available

Windsat ascending pass

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting VortMax1969:
Unfortunately 456...they do not tell you when the OBS are from WindSat!



well it shows the QuikSCAT pass
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
Quoting VortMax1969:
Unfortunately 456...they do not tell you when the OBS are from WindSat!



Huh?

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Here's a weird ironic fact. 07L is in the same area Hugo was 20 years ago. lol, funny ain't it?
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340
Quoting Weather456:


Yes it is

From the NDBC

The source of QuikSCAT wind information displayed here is NOAA's National Environmental Satellite and Data Information Service (NESDIS) Office of Research and Applications. The user assumes the entire risk related to use of this data. NWS/NDBC is providing this data "as is," and the standard NWS disclaimer applies.



Yep has that disclaimer at bottom
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
Convection waning, probably another fluke; however, structure and banding have greatly improved. Still waiting for Quickscat to pass the area to determine if a new LLC has formed.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340
Quoting VortMax1969:
If you mean

"Latest Satellite Wind Map for this Area"

then yes, its the latest QS for the area.



Sorrry guys, that does not necessarily refer to QS!



Yes it is

From the NDBC

The source of QuikSCAT wind information displayed here is NOAA's National Environmental Satellite and Data Information Service (NESDIS) Office of Research and Applications. The user assumes the entire risk related to use of this data. NWS/NDBC is providing this data "as is," and the standard NWS disclaimer applies.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
ok thanks 456
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
Quoting will40:


So still just 2 passes a day?


yep, but the wind map changes twice a day. it changes when the ascending pass available (usually morning here in the ATL) and descending pass (evening).

Right now if you look at buoy 41096 wind map, thats the ascending pass from this morning but should change as the evening pass becomes available.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
freddy lookin nice... startin to watch him... good evening all
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
If any of you have looked at the link that Dr. Masters posted hurricanes-blizzards-noreaster.com, they have lots of different storms on their page.

I have just spent the better part of an hour watching the videos they have on Andrew. If any of you are interested in what the aftermath was like, they have the best collection of photos and videos I've seen. Very eery to watch the reports leading up to the storm, to see Max Mayfield telling us what to expect, and see the reports from during the storm.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hurricaneseason2006:


just kidding? Are you mad?

This is the most wishcasted storm ever. The wishcasting was ridiculous and out of control and was upsetting. Every day a puff of clouds develop, the wishcasting increase until it disspiated. Fred is dead and the wishcasting is still going on. These poeple will not give up until Fred has completely gone. It's driving me CRAZY!!! LOL

There are still some levelled headed persons here who know much better. Glad we have them or this blog would spiral downwards.


lol, I'm not mad, just tried not to criticize anyone.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Quoting Weather456:


If you mean

"Latest Satellite Wind Map for this Area"

then yes, its the latest QS for the area.


So still just 2 passes a day?
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
I feel ya' 2006...

Although to keep it in perspective, the last accurate forecast was when G_D told Noah it was going to rain and he better build an Arc.

After that, it has gone downhill so to speak.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting will40:
ok when you open a bouy station it shows a wind sat map is that the same as quikscat?


If you mean

"Latest Satellite Wind Map for this Area"

then yes, its the latest QS for the area.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
Hey, press.

Speaking of Hugo, I remember a Charlotte-residing friend of mine telling how Hugo blew out the plate glass front and back windows of her apartment there, and she ended up sheltering in the windowless bathroom, with the rain beating in on everything she owned and the wind blowing out whatever it wanted... For several years afterwards one could still see the damage to trees and manmade structures all across the NC Piedmont, from Charlotte to Raleigh...
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21529
ok when you open a bouy station it shows a wind sat map is that the same as quikscat?
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
Quoting will40:
Weather456 I have a question


shoot
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
551. will40
12:00 AM GMT on September 22, 2009
Weather456 I have a question
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4111
550. Cavin Rawlins
12:00 AM GMT on September 22, 2009
Quoting BahaHurican:
yeah, we knew that.... just seemed to capture so well the feeling the blog has been having about FredEx and how long it's taking him to exit the basin, already!

LOL


I'm about ready to stop hearing that name. This storm has been wishcasted on levels unheard of. lol

j/k
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
548. presslord
11:59 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
...I dunno...seems pretty ominous...all this Fred talk...on the 20th anniv. of Hugo...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10479
547. JLPR
11:59 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting antonio28:


I agree shear is easing in the vecinity of the wave but we don't have data of a new close circulation. Will see if DPass don't miss it, but if it regenerate the LLC I think that conditions will be at least marginaly for develop in a period of 24-96 hrs starting 24 hrs from now. 98L not dead at all, yet.

LOL Fredy appears to be in a more favorable enviroment and at least in Sat Loop looks like finaly has a close SFC low again. But again Dpass will dictate the story of this blog tonight.


It still has its LLC although it is very weak
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 5223
546. BahaHurican
11:58 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting Weather456:



It was a typo...Read post 533 and read over my post.
yeah, we knew that.... just seemed to capture so well the feeling the blog has been having about FredEx and how long it's taking him to exit the basin, already!

LOL
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21529
545. tornadodude
11:58 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting iceman55:
tornadodude iknow.


yeah, send some of that rain to me ok?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8201
544. jurakantaino
11:58 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting JLPR:


...and? it still exits =P

This year it appears the Upper lows are the ones bringing rain here not the tropical waves
Couldn't agree with you more locally here in the west of PUerto Rico we have had flooding and gusty winds every afternoon.
Member Since: July 31, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 730
542. antonio28
11:57 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting JLPR:
98L looking a little interesting =P
The LLC is a little to the SW of the convection
(under the weaker convection)close to 15N 47.5W


I agree shear is easing in the vecinity of the wave but we don't have data of a new close circulation. Will see if DPass don't miss it, but if it regenerate the LLC I think that conditions will be at least marginaly for develop in a period of 24-96 hrs starting 24 hrs from now. 98L not dead at all, yet.

LOL Fredy appears to be in a more favorable enviroment and at least in Sat Loop looks like finaly has a close SFC low again. But again Dpass will dictate the story of this blog tonight.
Member Since: July 15, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 799
541. tornadodude
11:56 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting JLPR:


XD made me laugh


me too haha good evening everyone
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8201
540. JLPR
11:55 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting Greyelf:




XD made me laugh
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 5223
539. tropics21
11:55 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting markymark1973:

The apperance of Fred tells me the shear has really dropped now and a small anticyclone is set to build in over him until landfall. Could get interesting.
Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy won't die keeps trying to return
Member Since: August 23, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 263
538. tornadodude
11:55 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting iceman55:
tornadodude .we have no pump here in slidell la like new orleans .


dang iceman, thats not good
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 24 Comments: 8201
537. Greyelf
11:54 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting Hurricane009:
SNOW IN COLORADO!!!!!!!!!!!! SNOW IN COLORADO!!!!!!!!


Member Since: June 5, 2007 Posts: 18 Comments: 838
536. Cavin Rawlins
11:54 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting BahaHurican:
I particularly like the bolded part of the comment... lol I know Fred has been stalled out for a couple days, but are we really expecting him to take WEEKS to get to GA???

I also am wondering if this is the GA landfall we've been feeling has to happen sooner or later....



It was a typo...Read post 533 and read over my post.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
535. BahaHurican
11:53 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting Weather456:
I expect little from Fred as he heads into the GA/SC area over the upcoming weeks. Warm ssts yes but unfavorable upper winds forecasted to impact Fred which should moderate development.

Also I have seen the sat images of Fred and I wouldnt call that a comeback.
I particularly like the bolded part of the comment... lol I know Fred has been stalled out for a couple days, but are we really expecting him to take WEEKS to get to GA???

I also am wondering if this is the GA landfall we've been feeling has to happen sooner or later....
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21529
534. JLPR
11:53 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


oh wait your nuts if you hadn't discounted it yet lol.


lol long ago
I actually stopped watching it
its just too darn unpredictable xD
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 5223
533. Cavin Rawlins
11:52 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


did you say weeks? lol


sorry week. not in 1 week but during this week.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
531. JLPR
11:51 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting Relix:


Meeh, too far north to bring more rains to PR =P


...and? it still exits =P

This year it appears the Upper lows are the ones bringing rain here not the tropical waves
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 5223
529. BurnedAfterPosting
11:51 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting Weather456:
I expect little from Fred as he heads into the GA/SC area over the upcoming weeks. Warm ssts yes but unfavorable upper winds forecasted to impact Fred which should moderate intensity.


did you say weeks? lol
528. reedzone
11:51 PM GMT on September 21, 2009
Quoting JLPR:
Fred-Ex convection isn't that impressive

but the Gulf Stream is close so lets not discount it yet :)


As I mentioned earlier, it just started to blow up, next frame will probably show the convection a bit deeper.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7340

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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