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The Influence of Storm Size on Hurricane Surge

Jennifer L. IrishZachry Department of Civil Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

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Donald T. ResioCoastal and Hydraulics Laboratory, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, Mississippi

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Jay J. RatcliffNew Orleans District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans, Louisiana

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Abstract

Over the last quarter-century, hurricane surge has been assumed to be primarily a function of maximum storm wind speed, as might be estimated from the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale. However, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that wind speed alone cannot reliably describe surge. Herein it is shown that storm size plays an important role in surge generation, particularly for very intense storms making landfall in mildly sloping regions. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, analysis of the historical hurricane record evidenced no clear correlation between surge and storm size, and consequently little attention was given to the role of size in surge generation. In contrast, it is found herein that, for a given intensity, surge varies by as much as 30% over a reasonable range of storm sizes. These findings demonstrate that storm size must be considered when estimating surge, particularly when predicting socioeconomic and flood risk.

Corresponding author address: Jennifer L. Irish, Zachry Department of Civil Engineering, Texas A&M University, 3136 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843. Email: jirish@civil.tamu.edu

Abstract

Over the last quarter-century, hurricane surge has been assumed to be primarily a function of maximum storm wind speed, as might be estimated from the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale. However, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that wind speed alone cannot reliably describe surge. Herein it is shown that storm size plays an important role in surge generation, particularly for very intense storms making landfall in mildly sloping regions. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, analysis of the historical hurricane record evidenced no clear correlation between surge and storm size, and consequently little attention was given to the role of size in surge generation. In contrast, it is found herein that, for a given intensity, surge varies by as much as 30% over a reasonable range of storm sizes. These findings demonstrate that storm size must be considered when estimating surge, particularly when predicting socioeconomic and flood risk.

Corresponding author address: Jennifer L. Irish, Zachry Department of Civil Engineering, Texas A&M University, 3136 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843. Email: jirish@civil.tamu.edu

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