A storm surge consists of the most dangerous flooding a hurricane can cause.
Hurricane season has once again come to call, with people throughout the coastal states checking the National Hurricane Center’s website to know about the latest potential or next upcoming threat. Those threats are real too, with people losing their lives and billions of dollars per year of damage to homes and property.
That damage comes from the two elements of a hurricane that make it dangerous: wind and water. More specifically, a lot of the damage comes from flooding caused by the massive amounts of rainwater falling from the hurricanes.
It seems that large quantities of people fall victim to the flooding caused by hurricanes every year, with most acting as if such a thing were unheard of. Yet such flooding goes hand in hand with hurricanes; so much so that hurricane preparedness should really be more about preparing for a flood than anything else.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, most flooding is not extremely deep. There are things that can cause deep flooding, most especially flash flooding. In the case of a hurricane, the truly deep flooding comes from storm surge, with a record high of 27.8 feet in Pass Christian, MS, during Hurricane Katrina.
Just How Dangerous Is A Storm Surge?
What is storm surge? It’s a rising of the sea level as a result of atmospheric pressure change and high winds. That’s the most dangerous flooding a hurricane can cause. But it’s not the most common flooding that most people are likely to encounter. The amount of land which is below 28 feet above sea level is so miniscule that chances of falling victim to storm surge are very low.
I have a friend that lives essentially across the street from the Gulf of Mexico. Even though they are within 100 yards of the water, they are 33 feet above sea level. So, if some future hurricane brought a Katrina-esque storm surge to their shore, they would still be safe.
On the other hand, thousands of households were flooded when Hurricane Harvey got stalled over Houston. The storm dumped 60 inches of rain accumulation over the city and shattered previous storm records. At 49 feet above mean sea level, they were safe from any risk of a Katrina-type storm surge. Nevertheless, they were not safe from the risk of the storm stalling over their city and inundating them with that much rain.
Sixty inches is five feet. Considering that the standard ceiling height in homes is eight feet, that didn’t even fill the first floors of homes. Granted, it was still too much to stay in those rooms, but it wasn’t enough that homes were totally covered with water or washed away by the water.
There is a burning question that faces all of us who live in the coastal states. What are we going to do if we are suddenly the target of such a hurricane with its accompanying flooding?
Hindsight is 20/20 they say and that’s surely true in this case. Looking back at the results of Hurricane Harvey, it’s clear that anyone living in the southeast Houston area would have been better off bugging out, prepper or not.
That’s a much harder call to make before the fact though. The last time that Houston’s city officials called for a general evacuation, there was a 100 mile long traffic jam which lasted over 24 hours. People died in their vehicles simply sitting in the heat that day. With that sort of history, it’s not surprising that officials were reluctant to order another mass evacuation.
The reality is that such orders are merely a best guess, just like they are for you and me. How many of us, had we been living in the Houston area, would have looked at the pending storm and decided to ride it out just like the people of Houston did?
Of course, once the flooding hits, bugging out in a car, truck, or even a 4×4 is doubtful. While there were some rescues accomplished with 4×4 trucks in Houston, that is very risky. Since you can’t see what is under the water, you never know if there is a hole that has opened up, which the truck could fall right into.
Unless you manage to leave really early, which really constitutes a bug out rather than a self-rescue, the only way you can do so effectively is with a boat. But since few people have boats, there are few who are even ready to perform a self-rescue. Instead, they need rescuers to come get them.
It really doesn’t take all that much to execute a self-rescue though. While it might be nice to have a houseboat or even a nice fishing boat, the reality is that you can perform a self-rescue with anything that floats. That includes a raft you make by stringing empty milk jugs together. Even so, an inflatable boat might be the best compromise of work versus cost.
Most people aren’t equipped to self-rescue and don’t end up bugging out early. That leaves them awaiting someone else rescuing them. Nonetheless, don’t expect that “someone else” to be the government. Few government agencies have the necessary assets to accomplish an effective rescue as the boats that would be used have to be boats that government agencies have for other purposes, like fish and game. I know of no government agency which has boats available to rescue people from flooding.
In the case of Hurricane Harvey, it was the Cajun Navy from Louisiana who came to the rescue, towing swamp boats and other shallow water fishing boats behind their trucks. Had it not been for the help of these citizens, many of the people could not have been rescued.
Even so, this group has been denied permission by government officials to go into other areas and rescue people. When they went to help in Pender County, North Carolina, they were turned away by the Emergency Operations Center. Only three boats were officially allowed to stay, although many more did so on a vigilante basis.
If you don’t have any other option, then you’re going to have to await rescue. Still, that’s not all that secure an option to count on. With government officials able to deny the help of groups like the Cajun Navy, who only want to help, there’s no saying what sort of aid you’ll have available to you.
Shelter In Place
With that in mind, you might find yourself stuck in a situation where you need to shelter in place. Now, that may sound impossible, but it really isn’t, as long as you have at least one floor, including the attic, which is above the water level. I’ve known people who have ridden out heavy flooding just by moving to the upper floor of their home.
Granted, American-made homes really aren’t designed to withstand such abuse. But the fact of the matter is that most of the damage caused by flooding, while expensive, is superficial. It’s the drywall, carpeting, and other finish items which are destroyed by the floodwaters, not the structural integrity of the home.
Even so, preparing to shelter in place is an important part of survival and that includes preparing to shelter in place through flooding. What do I mean by that? More than anything, I mean being ready to camp out on the second floor of your home or in the attic. That includes having the necessary equipment and supplies stored in those areas so that you can live without having to go swimming downstairs while looking for the things you missed.
Here are a few of the things you need to consider:
- Water purification
- A chemical toilet of some sort
- Ways to keep warm
- Sleeping accommodations
- Signaling for help
Rescue From That Shelter
Even if you do decide to shelter in place, you want to have a backup plan for rescue. Floodwaters might rise higher than you expect, making your second story or attic no longer tenable. In that case, you will probably need to move onto the roof so that rescuers can get to you.
This is an important point to consider. How are you going to get onto the roof? Most homes don’t have access from the second floor to the roof unless you have a balcony and are pretty good at climbing. It’s even harder to find a home that has access from the attic to the roof unless it has dormers. Adding such access in, even if it causes a few eyebrows to rise, is a good idea if you live in a potential hurricane zone.
You may also enjoy reading an additional Off The Grid News article: Surviving Extreme Heat Without Air Conditioning
What are your thoughts on surviving hurricanes, floods, and summer storm surges? Let us know in the comments below.
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