Storm surge survey teams find surprising damage from Ian

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In the days leading up to Hurricane Ian’s landfall along Florida’s Gulf Coast, AccuWeather meteorologists warned that storm surges and flooding would be among the historic storm’s most significant hazards. . Two weeks have passed since Ian landed as a Category 4 storm in Southwest Florida, and the full extent of storm surge damage is now better focused.

The National Weather Service (NWS) sent damage survey crews to Fort Myers, Florida to perform a full analysis of the damage caused by Ian. Jeff Evans of the NWS office in Houston was one of the people who helped lead the damage surveys along Florida’s Gulf Coast, particularly to determine where the worst of the storm surge was. product.

“The most affected area is obviously [the] The Fort Myers Beach area is where we found our highest surge values,” Evans told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell. “We saw damage on the second floor.”

By surveying buildings that have been partially submerged in water, survey teams can see water marks left on interior walls, cabinets and other furniture by the storm surge. Damage to a house was discovered several inches into a closet on the second floor of the oceanfront condo. The highest water marks indicate the maximum level of standing water, but the waves could have reached even higher high.

The highest water level found by the team so far was 15 feet above normal high water mark. Ian’s storm surge was comparable to other notorious hurricanes in recent history, including Hurricane Laura, which brought a peak storm surge of 18 feet to Louisiana, and Hurricane Michael, which triggered a storm surge of up to 15 feet in the Mexico Beach area. Florida.

At the level detected so far since Ian, all of Sanibel Island, a barrier island just west of Fort Myers, has been inundated by feet of water.

Even though the height of the storm surge was correctly forecast by AccuWeather meteorologists and was one of the main reasons the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes rated Ian at 5, residents told AccuWeather reporters they were surprised by how quickly the water poured in from the Gulf of Mexico.

“Surge seems to be a difficult aspect of the storm to visualize in a person’s mind compared to heavy rain or wind, because on the whole few people have seen for themselves how fast a surge storm can cause water to rise rapidly flooding anything and everything in its path – often heading away from the immediate coast through bays, coves and tidal rivers,” said Jon Porter. , AccuWeather’s chief meteorologist.

In addition to this, there are other factors that compound the dangers of storm surges besides the level of the water and the distance it can reach beyond the immediate shore.

“There are waves crashing over the rising water level which makes the situation even more dangerous and creates further damage. The power of this water can be seen in the photos of Fort Myers and surrounding communities where homes and businesses are similarly destroyed the path to complete destruction you would see in a war zone and large boats resting miles inland, far from the water now removed,” Porter explained.

Meteorologists investigating the damage know all too well the impacts of the force of the water.

Residents who decided to stay home to get Ian out quickly found themselves scrambling to reach higher ground as the water rose.

“We have heard stories of people who perished in their cars [while] trying to chase off the surge,” Evans said.

He added that anyone in this situation should try to reach the highest level of the structure rather than trying to navigate through the dangerous storm surge to reach higher ground.

Hurricane Ian NWS damage survey

High tide on Oct. 12, 2022, on the first floor of a residence in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Ian.

According to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report released Wednesday, Oct. 12, of the 108 reported deaths statewide, at least 58 were related to drowning.

The plethora of data collected in the Fort Myers area will be critical to improving storm surge predictions in the future when the next major hurricane threatens the Gulf Coast.

“Knowing exactly what happened, we can go back and maybe adjust the model and maybe do better in the next storm with the forecast,” Evans said.

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Forecasters are also considering how meteorologists and local authorities have communicated the dangers of Hurricane Ian to the public, stressing that people should consider the storm as a whole and all of its potential impacts, factors considered in the forecast. AccuWeather’s RealImpact™ scale for hurricanes. .

“AccuWeather hurricane experts accurately forecast a surge of 16 to 20 feet in the hardest hit communities, which was the highest and most accurate forecast of storm surge available from any source. “, Porter said.

Water impacts from both coastal flooding resulting from storm surges and inland flooding often lead to greater death tolls in hurricanes than damage from the wind itself, according to Porter, who pointed out that’s why AccuWeather forecasters “used Ian’s urgent and descriptive advance warnings to help people understand the devastating and dangerous floods that would follow and how quickly they would intensify.”

Porter said the hope was to communicate this emergency to reiterate the need for people to safely evacuate from areas affected by storm surges and other hazards. Storm surge survey teams echoed the critical importance of heeding all evacuation orders when issued by authorities.

“The key is really to listen to evacuation orders, listen to your officials and trust them to make decisions on your best behalf,” Evans said.

Evans told AccuWeather his team is wrapping up their work in Fort Myers, but the local NWS office will continue to investigate the damage for months to come.

Additional reporting by Bill Wadell.

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