National and local weather agencies are taking additional steps to help Florida residents better comprehend the risks associated with tropical cyclones. Beginning with the 2017 hurricane season (which starts June 1), the National Hurricane Center will issue storm surge alerts, with maps of affected areas.
The watches and warnings are in addition to the messages and graphics already provided for hurricanes. While reports of a storm's size, wind speed, forward speed, and path have long been part of the hurricane center's updates, this year's notifications will include storm surge watches and warnings, with reports of how much water is expected, and where.
The benefits of storm surge warnings
Storm surges, which are caused by rising water, can occur in areas beyond the storm's direct path. Providing a separate alert for storm surges will help the media, emergency managers, and the public better understand localized hazards. Most of the damage (and death) caused by hurricanes come from the storm surge.
Hurricane center forecasters and local National Weather Service meteorologists will work together, combining their knowledge with advanced technology to provide regular reports and maps depicting specific areas that are vulnerable. Storm surge threats are often limited to small areas, as elevation and topography impact susceptibility to flooding.
The National Hurricane Center's website will post storm surge graphics 48 hours before the surge is expected. The National Weather Service and hurricane center will issue regularly updated "Hurricane Local Statements" as soon as information becomes available.
The difference between "watches" and "warnings"
A storm surge watch will go into effect when rising water from tropical storms, depressions, or hurricanes is expected to pose life-threatening hazards within 48 hours. In some cases, watches will also be issued if flooding is not expected to be life-threatening, but is likely to leave residents trapped in isolated areas.
A warning, on the other hand, indicates the potential for life-threatening flooding within 36 hours. Warnings may take effect earlier if other conditions, such as tropical storm-force winds, are expected to reduce the amount of time residents have to evacuate or make other preparations.
Hurricane watches and warnings will be accompanied by color-coded maps depicting how high floodwaters could reach. Having access to the latest information on storms and storm surges may help people take adequate precautions.
How does insurance treat storm surge damage?
In some cases, your insurance company may claim that damage to your home was from flooding caused by the storm surge, not hurricane damage. Homeowners' insurance generally does not cover flood damage. Even if you have flood insurance, your insurer may try to find ways to delay or deny your claim. If you need help in the aftermath of a hurricane obtaining fair compensation from insurers, contact a lawyer familiar with property damage and hurricane insurance claims to discuss your options.