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Storm Surge: Water rise that can quickly become deadly

Storm surge levels can be over 20 feet in some storms.

ATLANTA — Storm surge happens when the strong winds of a hurricane blow over the ocean or gulf waters, literally forcing the water to pile up as it approaches the coast.

This surge effect can cause water levels to jump anywhere from 1 foot to well over 20 feet above normal.

Wind speed isn't the only factor in determining a potential storm surge. The storm's size, intensity, shape, speed and angle of approach all matter. The coastline itself and the slope of the ocean floor are also factors.

One to 3 feet of water can knock a person off their feet and stall a car. At 3 feet, the surge can carry most cars away. If a person is still home when the water gets up to 6 feet, they would have to seek higher ground -- like a second story or a roof.  A 12-foot storm surge would fill the entire first floor of most homes and potentially knock a home off its foundation.

The category ranking of a storm doesn't always correlate to the storm surge threat. Weaker Category 1 or Category 2 storms have been known to produce higher surges than their stronger counterparts.

The National Hurricane Center now issues Storm surge watches and warnings to alert coastal residents of expected water rises and coastal flooding ahead of tropical cyclones. 

For those who live along the coast or in tributaries near the coast, it's important to pay close attention to these alerts so that they know if and when to expect storm surges and how high they could get. Reacting early and quickly can be critical for keeping you and your family safe.

Follow 11Alive Stormtracker Melissa Nord on Twitter.



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