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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78. IKE
Quoting tacoman:
IKE IT DOESNT MATTER I PREDICTED 6 NAMED STORMS FOR THE YEAR AND HIT IT RIGHT ON THE NOSE..YOU DONT PREDICT AND ACTIVE SEASON WITH AND ELNINO OUT THERE..WELL GUYS 2009 IS HISTORY AND HOPEFULLY ELNINO WILL BE GONE BY 2010..SO HAVE A PLEASNT AFTERNOON ITWILL GIVE THE NEBIES TIME TO LEARN..ITS BEEN FUN GUYS WATCH YOUR BLOBS AND LEARN FROM THEM...IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AND I WILL ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS..STORM W DONT FEEL BAD WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES BIG GUY..


Boy you sure blew it on the last GOM blob...the one you said could dump 10-15 inches of rain on parts of the gulf-coast. The one you said could turn into a cane. The one you said recon would check out, when the recon mission was canceled within the next hour.

I think someone hit YOU, right on the nose and it skewed your train of thought. Your EGO is at cat 5 status right now.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Hmm Tacoman has a point, oh and look!!! Pigs are flying in the sky!! :P
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.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Good morning!

I spotted something interesting just NE of the Lesser Antilles and west of ex-98L.

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Quoting OSUWXGUY:
'

Morning Grothar-

While shear has come down to favorable levels (<15knots) over ex-Fred, the 850 vorticity is displaced well northwest of the deep convection that can be seen on satellite.

850 Vorticity Centered at 31N 73.5W

Convection centered near 29.5N 72W


Furthermore, the TPW loops shows the spin/low level circulation weakening...




So he's playing with us again? Thanks for the graphics. It is always better when one can see the actual dynamics rather than ooh ooh at a big blob. Appreciate it!
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Quoting tacoman:
YES ORCA BUT THIS ELNINO WILL BRING THE SOUTH THE WHITE STUFF AND ICE STORMS..GOING TO BE MESSY WINTER..
Quoting tacoman:
look i predicted 6 storms and aced it ...i cant help it if you guys predicted anywhere from 10-18 storms lol..not in and elnino year dude..i will be very surprised if another one forms this year with the cold fronts stating to come down..no dude ITS OVER THE FAT LADY SANG...
Well there it is everyone, tacoman has spoken! Just one problem, it is as idiotic and provocative as all the other stuff he posts. He is mad because he knows his forecast for 6 storms is gonna be wrong.
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71. LBAR
Quoting PensacolaDoug:

Hi Lbar. You told my story as well. Except for few details. Anyway, I'm some liberties here. Hope you don't mind.






Hope ya mind. Stories just too similar and I'm bored. :)


I don't mind.
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Quoting Orcasystems:


Thank you for that last word.. and maybe I will see you online next year (assuming I clear the list)


he wont leave the blog until next year LMAO

he is just going to continue to say it over and over and over and over and over and over again that the season is over to make sure we know its over.

Have you ever seen one person who thought the tropics were dead or the season was over NOT make sure we knew about it? LOL
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You all know I can't post animated images, but is it possible the high over remnant Fred could push is back southwest. If someone has the time to look at the animated version i wuld appreciate it. GeoffreyWPB, you always have good graphics. Help us out here OK!
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Quoting Grothar:


Is Fred back? As anything? We were all ignoring the posts last night of people who said Fred was going to make a comeback.
'

Morning Grothar-

While shear has come down to favorable levels (<15knots) over ex-Fred, the 850 vorticity is displaced well northwest of the deep convection that can be seen on satellite.

850 Vorticity Centered at 31N 73.5W

Convection centered near 29.5N 72W


Furthermore, the TPW loops shows the spin/low level circulation weakening...

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67. IKE
Quoting tacoman:
look i predicted 6 storms and aced it ...i cant help it if you guys predicted anywhere from 10-18 storms lol..not in and elnino year dude..i will be very surprised if another one forms this year with the cold fronts stating to come down..no dude ITS OVER THE FAT LADY SANG...


I know who you are...you're stormtop/stormno.

I've read enough of your posts to know.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting tacoman:
YES ORCA BUT THIS ELNINO WILL BRING THE SOUTH THE WHITE STUFF AND ICE STORMS..GOING TO BE MESSY WINTER..


Thank you for that last word.. and maybe I will see you online next year (assuming I clear the list)
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looks like Stormtop got another alias
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Quoting tacoman:
look i predicted 6 storms and aced it ...i cant help it if you guys predicted anywhere from 10-18 storms lol..not in and elnino year dude..i will be very surprised if another one forms this year with the cold fronts stating to come down..no dude ITS OVER THE FAT LADY SANG...


just a thought for you, a cold front hasnt come through for about the last 2 weeks, just saying. but for the most part I do agree with you, the hurricane season is predominantly over. but it is foolish to tell someone to let his guard down, you know? stranger things have happened.

Quoting Grothar:


Is Fred back? As anything? We were all ignoring the posts last night of people who said Fred was going to make a comeback.


well, Fred does have some nice convection this morning, but it is believed that he will not have enough time over the gulf stream to re-intensify, although shear is also forecast to relax some as well. If Fred stalls over the gulf stream, we might get a tropical depression, but his window of opportunity is limited.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting tacoman:
look i predicted 6 storms and aced it ...i cant help it if you guys predicted anywhere from 10-18 storms lol..not in and elnino year dude..i will be very surprised if another one forms this year with the cold fronts stating to come down..no dude ITS OVER THE FAT LADY SANG...


Well done and congratulations.. so I would expect that your off to do other things now..and we won't see you on the blog again until next year :)
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I know the season isn't over yet,because my ignore list is still growing.
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Quoting tornadodude:


sorry to burst your bubble, but the season is not over yet, although it is close, but there is still a chance of a storm at some point between now and the official end of the season. so people still need to stay prepared, regardless of how slow the season has been so far. just my thoughts


Is Fred back? As anything? We were all ignoring the posts last night of people who said Fred was going to make a comeback.
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Good morning all! The CCHS Weather Center website has been updated this morning with new forecasts for Southern, Central, and Northern Florida as well as new tropical update.

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Quoting tacoman:
WELL TO BAD DOUG HAVE A BETTER ATTITUDE...youare just mad because hurricane season is OVER FOR 2009..suck it up guy you should be happy about this...


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Quoting PensacolaDoug:
I should know better.

Out for now......


good call, take it easy
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting CycloneOz:
Lack of Solar Beatings = Lack of Tropical Cyclones?

Sunspots, being the manifestation of intense magnetic activity, host secondary phenomena such as coronal loops and reconnection events. Most solar flares and coronal mass ejections originate in magnetically active regions around visible sunspot groupings.

Sunspots are and have been at a minimum for some time now. Consequently, solar flares and coronal mass ejections have been rare, also.

I believe that the Earth must be "spanked" by these solar events in order for TC activity to rise. Could TC formation be Earth's way of "crying" after being "spanked?"


it is quite interesting that you mention this, because last wednesday in my EAS class, when we were discussing hurricanes and El Nino, I asked my professor if lack of hurricane activity is related to the sun spot cycle.
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
I should know better.

Out for now......
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 661
Quoting tacoman:
because i want to make sure people are aware of what i said and they can take it easy now and wait for 2010...long live FRED..


sorry to burst your bubble, but the season is not over yet, although it is close, but there is still a chance of a storm at some point between now and the official end of the season. so people still need to stay prepared, regardless of how slow the season has been so far. just my thoughts
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting tacoman:
because i want to make sure people are aware of what i said and they can take it easy now and wait for 2010...long live FRED..





Thats not a good reason.
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 661

Hi Lbar. You told my story as well. Except for few details. Anyway, I'm some liberties here. Hope you don't mind.




Quoting LBAR:
I for one will NEVER forget the horrific sounds of hurricane IVAN. I lived about 1 miles inland from Pensacola Pass at the time and couldn't believe what was happening. My whole family was there and we were ALL praying and crying...even the atheists among us... ;-) My area was old residential with a lot of trees, but the devastation to the woods/trees and homes was immense. I remember as day broke looking up at the sky and seeing how low the clouds were and how fast they were moving. As the day progressed it got extremely hot,and the next day hotter. No electricity for 2 weeks. It wasn't fun, and it's something I don't ever want to repeat.


Hope ya mind. Stories just too similar and I'm bored. :)
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 661
Quoting BurnedAfterPosting:


cuz he wants to make everyone know for certain that the season is over.

I am pissed I missed thanksgiving, I mean is it December 1st already?


and I have never seen the leaves stay on the trees past the end of hurricane season before,what a year.
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Fredex looks like a furry bunch of cotton! (very scientific terms)
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:
Why ya gotta scream it Taco?


cuz he wants to make everyone know for certain that the season is over.

I am pissed I missed thanksgiving, I mean is it December 1st already?
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43. IKE
Quoting PensacolaDoug:
Why ya gotta scream it Taco?


And Fred looks better now then he's looked in days.

Hang in there Freddie!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Why ya gotta scream it Taco?
Member Since: July 25, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 661
41. LBAR
I for one will NEVER forget the horrific sounds of hurricane Hugo. I lived about 130 miles inland from Charleston at the time and couldn't believe what was happening. My whole extended family was there and we were ALL praying and crying...even the atheists among us... ;-) My area was very rural, but the devastation to the woods/trees was immense. I remember as day broke looking up at the sky and seeing how low the clouds were and how fast they were moving. As the day progressed it got extremely hot...and that night more rain...and the next day hotter. No electricity for 2 weeks. It wasn't fun, and it's something I don't ever want to repeat.
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Link

20kts at the most
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Always interesting looking back at big events that occurred during past tropical seasons,its also the anniversary of the big new england hurricane of 1938,fascinating stories written about that storm also.
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Quoting presslord:
at Bull's bay the damage from Hugo is still evident...


Same in Miami, there is a place called Miami Metro Zoo where hundreds dead trees and barely alive trees stand from Andrew. In the group there is an isolated bloomer that was not affected by the storm. Although you may not consider two small branches worth of leaves "blooming". Still plenty of trees a long Southern Dades I-95 route that have not recovered from Andrew.
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I enjoy reading you accounts on HUGO everyday. Also the links that you provide to the other stories. Thanks Dr. Masters
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35. IKE
2 Dead As Heavy Rain, Flooding Hit Metro Atlanta

"We have up to ten inches of rain in some spots,"

Link
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
34. IKE
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
Quoting IKE:
FRED~



Marshmellowy
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:
More JB. This'll be it for a while.



MONDAY 8 A.M.
STUBBORN, ISN'T HE? (FRED)

The long, strange trip of what looked to finally be dead Fred gets another day today. It is a remarkable saga in a remarkable season for lack of activity worldwide, as well as in the Atlantic. Fifteen named storms in the southwest Pacific is well below normal, and 13 is about normal in the southeast Pacific. The Atlantic is every bit as feeble this year as portrayed, and we will find that under 10 will be a remarkably low number with the way storms are named now. While I have no doubt the Jersey Devil deserved a classification, one can argue that Ana and Erika did not and Danny should have been only at the end perhaps as subtropical.

But there he is... big high to the north, shear relaxing and heading for an area (the gulf stream) where he may simply stall. Models have this going onshore, but that is assuming he does not develop. If he does come back, the deeper level system may simply sit under the ridge If it's not ashore by Thursday, a turn southwest down the coast is possible. More likely than that would be to just sit and wait.

But let's see if it can sustain its convection today first.

Ciao for now. *****


It is possible but unlikely, the scenario he is presenting. Still it makes you wonder...
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at Bull's bay the damage from Hugo is still evident...
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10492
Hey folks! Well -- I guess you took me seriously when I said we needed rain. Which one of you has the magic weather machine? Thanks! But turn it off now! :)

We are Northwest of Atlanta - still in the metro area -- holy moly! We have a major road closing due to a mudslide! Crazy! Lots of flooding and more to come.

Good golly!
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29. IKE
FRED~

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37860
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MELBOURNE FL
915 AM EDT MON SEP 21 2009

.UPDATE...
CURRENTLY-TODAY...DAYTONA BEACH LIFEGUARDS HAVE REPORTED STRONG RIP
CURRENTS THE PAST FEW DAYS. THOUGH IT IS CLOUDY AND RAINY ALONG THE
VOLUSIA COAST THIS MORNING...WEATHER CONDITIONS SHOULD IMPROVE THIS
AFTERNOON AND SIMILAR STRONG RIP CURRENTS ARE EXPECTED WITHIN A FEW
HOURS OF THE LATE AFTERNOON LOW TIDE.

OTHERWISE...AN INVERTED TROUGH...THE REMNANTS OF FRED...WAS LOCATED
EAST OF THE STATE ALONG LONGITUDE 75W. AS THE WAVE PUSHES
WEST/NORTHWEST...LOCAL WINDS ARE FORECAST TO BACK SLIGHTLY TO THE
NORTHEAST. MORNING SOUNDINGS DO NOT SHOW ANY EVIDENCE OF THIS
OCCURRING YET WITH EASTERLY FLOW FROM THE SURFACE TO AROUND 700MB.

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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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