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Explainer: What is a storm surge and how dangerous is a Category 4 hurricane?

Posted at 3:48 PM, Sep 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-28 21:39:51-04

Hurricane Ian made landfall along the Gulf Coast of Florida Thursday afternoon and will likely go down in history as one of the most devastating hurricanes with catastrophic damage. The max sustained winds were reported at 150 mph. That is a very strong category 4 storm. A category 5 storm begins at 157+ mph.

You can watch News 5 meteorologist Mark Johnson go over the latest details about Hurricane Ian in the media player below:

Only four hurricanes on record have made landfall in the continental US with max winds of 155+ mph. This includes The Labor Day Hurricane (185 mph), Hurricane Camille (175 mph), Hurricane Andrew (165 mph) and Hurricane Michael (160 mph).


A category 4 storm is considered a major hurricane with wind speeds of 130-156 mph.

According to the National Hurricane Center, catastrophic damage will occur in a Category 4 storm. Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.


However, it is not just the wind that makes major hurricanes so devastating. It is also the storm surge. A storm surge is an abnormal change in the water level due to a storm that is over and above the predicted tide. The wind circulation of the storm blows on the ocean and causes a vertical circulation.

What is a storm surge?

While the storm is in deep water, there is nothing to disturb this circulation. However, once the storm nears land and shallower water, this vertical circulation gets disrupted because it cannot go back down, so it has nowhere to go but up and overland.

ABC Chief Meteorologist Ginger Zee has a great visual explanation of the storm surge.


Hurricane Ian's last forecast before landfall called for a storm surge of 12-18 feet between Englewood and Bonita Beach!! That is an INSANE amount of water, extremely costly and potentially deadly.


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