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

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

Share this Blog
1
+

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

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 178 - 128

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22Blog Index

Can someone post a link to the gfs that goes out further than 168hrs, you know the one that tacoman uses for his 100% accurate forcasts/cough. tia
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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..


ah nice so you admit you are STORMTOP

well you have been banned tons of times with different names, and now that you have admitted you are STORMTOP; you will be banned again. I guess you didn't stop using CAPS fast enough to save your IQ cuz you just trapped yourself lol.

admin know now

and with that *Ignore User*
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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..


and it didnt make national news???? geez, I thought if an 8 year old out foxed the NHC we would hear about it in the news... media these days..... LOL
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
164.

"tacoman does not have any blog entries."

Your blog in 2005, eh?

I think you need to stop studying the TB model. It is always going to show a swirl when you flush it, so you will always be able to add some spin to it whenever you want it to back up the drivel you spit out onto the blog.

If the season is so over, then stop posting.

Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


*yawn*

do you ever stop talking?

Two words... "Ignore User"
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tacoman:
dude strong shear coming from the sw over the gom will kill any chance for development...the ssts will also fall below 80 degrees..


ok, but how will strong shear lower the SST's? more shear = fewer storms. fewer storms = less cold water brought to the surface. doesnt add up
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
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..


Ok I will look

so its under STORMTOP? right? lol
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting jeffs713:

You enjoy punishing yourself?


I guess I just find it somewhat amusing?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
anyone who bashes StormW in anyway doesnt have many credentials in my book

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
as of noon today there is 29 hrs 18 mins of summer left then fall begins
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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.....

You enjoy punishing yourself?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tacoman:
ok burn i think this is how you got burned last time...youneed to learn the hard way dude..and you are forgetting the strong shear these fronts will bring also burn...


what does the strong shear have to do with reducing SST's?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
Quoting tacoman:
ok burn i think this is how you got burned last time...youneed to learn the hard way dude..and you are forgetting the strong shear these fronts will bring also burn...


*yawn*

do you ever stop talking?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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.....
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
regardless of any cold fronts that may come down, there is no way that the Gulf of Mexico temps are going to drop into the 70s this quickly

that is bogus
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tropics21:
Morning Flood


Howdy, Tropics! How you doing?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
156. LBAR
Large dust plume emerging off of Africa...nothing will be forming out there for a while.

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tacoman:
tornado dude just go and read your surface maps..they have 2 fronts in canada that will be coming down one is supposed to get here friday and saturday then next tuesday one will come to reinforce the cool air...the ssts in the gom should drop well intothe 70s..it really shows well on the wv loop..i hope i answered your question dude..


you did answer my question, why cant you answer everyone in this manner instead of blowing up at people? also, can you post an SST map for the waters off the coast of africa? TIA
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
Morning Flood
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting will40:
looks like Stormtop got another alias
Yup The All Caps Man lol Frost near Lake Ponhetrain lol
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting reedzone:
I'm puzzled to where tacoman believes that I said Fred WILL come back. I said there are chances and possibilities. All I did was continue to track the remnants, I'm not overdrawn. Unlike him, I give stuff chances and not boldly say if it will develop or not. Tacoman is the REAL wishcaster here ;) I want you all to know that.


reed, take a trip to Brooklyn and you will pick up a useful phrase (among others) that will serve you well. "Forget about it!!!" It can be used in many differenct contexts. Depending on the person or persons to whom you are speaking. If that doesn't work, remember this quote

"I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people that annoy me."
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tacoman:
sure tornado dude 3 major reasons why the season is over ...strong shear from elnino will keep anything from developing in the caribbean sea.2..cold fronts coming down from the north will keep the shear high and the ssts down from anything developing in the gom .3.and finally the cape verdes season is over the ssts have already begun to fall in the 70s and the water is to cool for anything to get started..i hope i answered your question dude..


ok, makes sense, but, there havent been any fronts in 2 weeks, and can you post some images regarding SST's? thanks
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
Thanks for mentioning my website(hurricanes-blizzards-noreasters.com.).The scans are from the actual newspapers I have in my collection.Will be adding more storms to the site,as well as adding to the current pages.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:
Weather permitting, Discovery's ferry flight could arrive at Kennedy Space Center about 12 noon EDT. Wx decision will be made at 11:45

NASA TV http://www.nasa.gov/145590main_Digital_Media.asx


A decision at 11:45 says they most likely will not fly up the beach?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Zing!!


did you check out the pond cam? pretty cool.

thanks Orca
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:
Weather permitting, Discovery's ferry flight could arrive at Kennedy Space Center about 12 noon EDT. Wx decision will be made at 11:45


Will you be watching? I see now they may divert to Tampa...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Weather permitting, Discovery's ferry flight could arrive at Kennedy Space Center about 12 noon EDT. Wx decision will be made at 11:45

NASA TV http://www.nasa.gov/145590main_Digital_Media.asx
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tornadodude:


LMAO, isnt it nap time for him anyway?


Zing!!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Dang...its blocked.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Orca, joy! Cant wait to just sit and watch it, since I am at work.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Tacoman-

will you provide me with some reasoning as to why the season is over? my calendar shows that we still have have some time left in the season.
Quoting tacoman:
yes storm w is a good forecaster but he has a lot to learn about troughs ..making a statement a storm could bust through a trough is just nonsense..i do respect some of what he says but he still has a lot to learn...


and saying that there is going to be frost on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in the middle of September is logical???? gimme a break man
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8357
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


Love it! I wish I had a cam to show the shuttle coming in on the modified 747 in about 20 minutes...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I'm puzzled to where tacoman believes that I said Fred WILL come back. I said there are chances and possibilities. All I did was continue to track the remnants, I'm not overdrawn. Unlike him, I give stuff chances and not boldly say if it will develop or not. Tacoman is the REAL wishcaster here ;) I want you all to know that.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
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
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
oh and tacoman, just because you post on a weather blog doesn't mean you are qualified to make a forecast lol

also the use of CAPS when you post lowers your IQ
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Ameister12:

Tropical Depressions should have their rights!!!
They don't have any Rights until Convection has wrapped around their center and their winds reach tropical force then they are named, They are what they are called simply a Depression
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting StormChaser81:


There's frost in Montana.


Your right

Butte Montana
Frost advisory in effect until 9 am MDT this morning...

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Just watched local MET (Central FL) and I quote: "we will be very wet tomorrow because of Fred, watch out, because here comes Fred"! Can't imagine Fredex could spread rain from Central Florida all the way to Mrytle Beach?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Cyberdium:


Spotting trolls 101:
1. Can't find the shift key
2. Doesn't understand punctuation
3. A complete sentence is unknown
4. Total lack of understanding of the English language.

Just my .02 worth...


Amen!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 178 - 128

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22Blog Index

Top of Page

About

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

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy
66 °F
Mostly Cloudy