Prepare for storm surge

Published 10:17 pm Friday, September 19, 2014

A couple of anniversaries slipped quietly by this week, and folks in Suffolk were glad not to have spent them reliving the previous experiences. Hurricane Floyd blew through northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia on Sept. 16, 1999. And Hurricane Isabel took aim at the area, making landfall on Sept. 18, 2003. Floyd brought massive, deadly and devastating flooding to large parts of both states. Isabel brought down many thousands of trees, knocking out electricity to some parts of Suffolk for weeks.

Both storms also served as classic examples of the devastating power of water. The storm surge from Isabel leveled homes along North Carolina’s Outer Banks and opened a new inlet on Hatteras Island. Floyd’s flooding had less to do with storm surge than the storm’s torrential rains added to already-swollen rivers. Still, the storm surge that came aground with Floyd in southeastern North Carolina amounted to nine feet or more.

Most folks think of a hurricane’s winds as being the force to be most worried about during the storm, and as Isabel demonstrated, the winds can wreak havoc. But storm surge can cause destruction on a whole other level, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management this week released a web-based tool that can help residents estimate their risk of storm-surge flooding.

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The tool, available at, allows users to find a particular address and see whether storm-surge flooding would reach them for hurricanes of every strength.

It’s no surprise to anyone who has been forced to detour around the Kimberly Bridge during a Nor’easter high tide that parts of the downtown area of Suffolk would be inundated during a worst-case scenario Category 1 or 2 storm. Stronger storms with lower barometric pressures would be likely to drive even greater storm surges, and if that water came ashore during high tide, things could get pretty bad in some parts of Suffolk, especially along the Nansemond River and its tributaries.

Once the wind starts blowing and the rain starts falling, there’s not much one can do to prepare for or to mitigate the damage that’s coming. That’s why a tool like this is so valuable. It gives residents a way to assess their risk ahead of time and take steps to protect themselves. And that’s one of the smartest things you can do when it comes to hurricanes.