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 presslord:
My 2 cents: the 'quote' feature should be changed so that it posts "Reference post #___"


Hey presslord, did not know you were on! Your .02 is always worth a comment.
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Quoting gordydunnot:
I hope this isn't the last installment of as the blob turns. I will be back just say it isn't so Joe.
lol
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I hope this isn't the last installment of as the blob turns. I will be back just say it isn't so Joe.
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Quoting Orcasystems:
For those of you totally bored... in about an hour.. the Pond guy will be repairing the waterfall on my pond (I hope anyway, he has been saying that for 3 months now)

Pond cam
orca can't open it ssays invalid expired certificate can You provide another link?
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post whatever.

Pass Christian is 128 miles south and west of Buras La, the area of Katrina's land fall.
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ORCA...is this "pond-man" that I am waiting for anything like a "Pool-boy"? I sure hope so because the shuttle just flew overhead, the blog is killing me today and I could use a little more excitement..:)
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I'm not sure but isn't tacoman the one who thought that the Canary Islands is where one kept their canaries?
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Quoting tropics21:
Think Tacoman should change his handle to Bozo


Then we could take him seriously!
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My 2 cents: the 'quote' feature should be changed so that it posts "Reference post #___"
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Thats probably his career choice.
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Alright guys I'm out, time to shower than head to my EAS class and learn more about El Nino, have a good one fellows!
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Dr M - if, at start of Nov, u do a piece in your Blog about Paloma - I have pictures and Video, from Cayman Brac, that I would be more than willing to send to u for use.

In the meantime, hoping the Season will remain quiet till the finish but NOT at all convinced that it is over for the Caribbean.
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Interesting picture of the tropics. Looks like remnant Fred is firing up a little to the North. OSUWXGUY or Reed, or anybod. It that where the center of circulation is? I thought the shear was to remain slightly on the high side through today?
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I just clicked on NHC and when you see "There are No Tropical Cyclones" stamped across the Atlantic and one small yellow circle in the Pacific in mid September, it DOES give you reason to pause...doesn't it?
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Quoting tacoman:
because dude im not a troll i know hurricanes..i been studying themfor 25 years...if i sent you my blog on katrina in 2005 you would have goose pimples i was so close i came within 9 miles of the landfall and that was when katrina was still in the atlantic i knew this was the big one..its in the archives read it then you will see why my forecasts or not out of realm..


And if he sent you the archives about his Dean forcasts, you'd see just how far off they were. But he won't answer questions about that. It would show how little he knows about weather.
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Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Quoting JupiterFL:
The real question is, what the heck is a tacoman?
maybe he makes taco's at the taco bell
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Quoting LBAR:
Large dust plume emerging off of Africa...nothing will be forming out there for a while.




It's about time for the far east to close up shop anyway. The dust will just drive the last nail on the final week IMO. Good catch on the dust plume, I hadn't noticed.

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Quoting JupiterFL:
The real question is, what the heck is a tacoman?


Apparently a windy gasbag with nothing original to say but plenty of reasons to argue about it anyway...yep, Tropics, Bozo would be good but it would be an insult to clowns everywhere
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.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
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Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Quoting MILLERTIME1:
tacoman... You are a complete fool.. Dude!! You talk like a tweleve year old.


How dare you give him such a compliment like that! What an insult to 12 year olds. A 12 year old would write much better than that. I think we should go down a few grades. lol

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Quoting tornadodude:
Alright fellow bloggers, I apologize for quoting tacoman, I know some of us have him on ignore, hope I didnt offend anyone, I was trying to use some form of logic to debate him, but I quickly realized it was futile. sorry!


please tell me you have figured out why we have the ignore feature!
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The real question is, what the heck is a tacoman?
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If a blogger can't even keep his/her own screen name what does that in itself say about his/her credibility? I hope in the near future Admin creates a filter so if you ignore someone on your ignore list you don't have to read their quotes by other bloggers if another blogger quotes them. I actually do not mind if other blogger's quote someone as long as I don't have to see it since it is on ignore.
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Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:


Welcome home Discovery


Flew right over my house in Merritt Island! Pretty cool because we usually have to go to the beach to see it.
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Think Tacoman should change his handle to Bozo
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Quoting tropics21:
Doin Good Floodman Just reading the posts and shaking My Head Hope Your day goes well


Yeah, it gets pretty ridiculous in here sometimes...hoping you have a great day too!
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Quoting Floodman:


Howdy, Tropics! How you doing?
Doin Good Floodman Just reading the posts and shaking My Head Hope Your day goes well
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Its always a source of amazement how one individual can generate so much blogging,and its always the same stuff.
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Welcome home Discovery
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Quoting Grothar:


At least on soap operas one can be written out of the script!! Well Dude, at least someone is trying to teach you something; about time. I am sure when he returns from his "errands" he will teach you a lot more. By the way does anyone know how long it takes to put away your teddy bears and Tonka toys??? :) (: lol, etc.


haha yeah, I was just trying to bore him, I know he knows a decent amount about the tropics, but he always flaunts this in a demeaning way
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
well since the season is over, I am putting up my Christmas tree this week and buying an advent calendar
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Alright fellow bloggers, I apologize for quoting tacoman, I know some of us have him on ignore, hope I didnt offend anyone, I was trying to use some form of logic to debate him, but I quickly realized it was futile. sorry!
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Quoting tornadodude:


this is more amusing than most soap operas


At least on soap operas one can be written out of the script!! Well Dude, at least someone is trying to teach you something; about time. I am sure when he returns from his "errands" he will teach you a lot more. By the way does anyone know how long it takes to put away your teddy bears and Tonka toys??? :) (: lol, etc.
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Quoting presslord:
at Bull's bay the damage from Hugo is still evident...


In which ways is the damage still evident, Press? I'm not a local, so I'd be interested in knowing what vestiges of damage are still apparent. Thanks!
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discovery landing at KSC now (piggyback), no beach flyover...

Touchdown
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Quoting rwdobson:


Ok, now let's talk about the 50+ forecasts you've blown since then. The fact that you are still bragging about a forecast you made 4 years ago is quite pathetic.

Even a stopped clock is right 2x/day.


took the words right out of my mouth lol
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Quoting rwdobson:


Ok, now let's talk about the 50+ forecasts you've blown since then. The fact that you are still bragging about a forecast you made 4 years ago is quite pathetic.

Even a stopped clock is right 2x/day.


excellent point
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Quoting tacoman:
yes burn and you will see all the insults i took from the people on here but i knew i was right i even out foxed the NHC..


Ok, now let's talk about the 50+ forecasts you've blown since then. The fact that you are still bragging about a forecast you made 4 years ago is quite pathetic.

Even a stopped clock is right 2x/day.
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Quoting jeffs713:

That isn't saying much.

Of course... is it more amusing than an episode of Cops or Jerry Springer?


eh, cant say it is
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


Ok I will look

so its under STORMTOP? right? lol

Don't bother looking, it's true.
Of course, you have to take that forecast with a pillar of salt as he has predicted every storm for years that could conceivably get into the Gulf to hit NOLA..as a CAT6.
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Quoting tornadodude:
tacoman-

thanks, I would really appreciate it if you backed up your claims with graphs, maps, etc.

I wonder why I even bother trying to have an intelligent conversation with trolls.....


Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


*yawn*

do you ever stop talking?



A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. Trolls are similarly uni-directional in their thinking...

Stormtop will tell you how he has studied Meteorology for years and how he actually nailed Katrina...what was he saying last year? That he was 10 miles off on landfall? What he doesn't tell you is that every forecast of his for the next three years was for the exact same path and landfall...there's an old saying that goes if you put 100 monkeys in a room with 100 typewriters, eventually they will write all of Shakespeares plays...Stormtop, you got lucky once but it will take a long time for you to repeat because it was a luck thing with no skill involved

By the way, why have they not figured out how to ban this joke permanently? He's been through a dozen handles already...
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Quoting tornadodude:


this is more amusing than most soap operas

That isn't saying much.

Of course... is it more amusing than an episode of Cops or Jerry Springer?
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182. 789
Trisha Palmer of the National Weather Service says that as much as 20 inches of rain has fallen on the metro Atlanta area since Friday. She said parts of Douglas and Carroll counties have received more than a foot of rain in the last day alone. As of 8 a.m. Monday, Chattanooga had received 4.93 inches of rain in 24 hours.

___

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Weather is "go" for a ferry flight landing at KSC, but not for a fly-around before landing.
http://twitter.com/nasa
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Quoting jeffs713:

Well, it is... I will give you that.


this is more amusing than most soap operas
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8406
Quoting tornadodude:


I guess I just find it somewhat amusing?

Well, it is... I will give you that.
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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