One of the county’s new storm surge signs is located at the entrance of Osceola High School on 98th Street North in Seminole. The sign shows how high the water could reach due to storm surge from a major hurricane.
A tropical depression formed on the 31st day of the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season. Later that day, it became the season’s first named storm.
Tropical Storm Arthur quickly gained strength and the National Hurricane Center upgraded its status to a Category 1 hurricane on July 3. On Independence Day, the NHC reported that Arthur had become a Category 2 hurricane. Arthur made landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina July 4 with wind gusts of more than 100 mph.
Hurricane season began June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.
The NHC categorizes hurricanes based on wind speed according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. A tropical storm has maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph. A Category 1 hurricane has winds between 74 and 95 mph; Category 2, 96-110 mph; Category 3, 111-130 mph; Category 4, 131-155 mph; and a Category 5, the top of the list, has maximum sustained winds of 156 mph and up.
However, despite that focus on wind speeds, the bigger risk really comes from storm surge, which occurs when water is pushed toward the shore by the force of hurricane-force winds.
“The greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from storm surge,” according to retired NHC meteorologist Brian Jarvinen.
At least 1,500 lives were lost during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 due to storm surge.
Storm surge also causes extensive damage. Any structure not designed to withstand its force most likely would be destroyed, as bombardment from waves and currents cause foundations to weaken and fail. Storm surge also severely erodes beaches and coastal roadways.
Residences and businesses located on Pinellas County’s barrier islands are the most vulnerable. But, inland areas are not immune from the effects. Salt water can intrude into estuaries and bayous. Animals, including snakes, often take refuge in urban areas to escape the rising waters.
Many factors play a part in just how high the water could reach in any given location.
Educating the public
Pinellas County’s Emergency Management recently completed an 18-month grant program with installation of storm surge awareness signs at 38 locations near county schools and school-related facilities. The signs demonstrate the area’s vulnerability and show how much surge could occur if a major hurricane were to hit.
A major hurricane is a Category 3 or higher.
Storm surge awareness signs have been placed near the following schools:
• Bayside High School, 14405 49th St. N., Clearwater
• Tarpon Springs Elementary School, 555 E. Pine St., Tarpon Springs
• Tarpon Springs Fundamental Schools, 400 E Harrison St., Tarpon Springs
• Tarpon Springs High School, 1411 S Gulf Road, Tarpon Springs
The NHC used an experimental potential storm surge flooding map for the first-time ever in its forecasts for Hurricane Arthur. The map shows geographical areas where storm surge could occur along with how high above ground the water could reach. Areas are represented in different colors, with blue representing 3 feet above the ground at the low end and red, showing areas where the water could reach 9 feet above ground at the top.
County staff is nearly finished with a storm surge illustration application designed to show residents what storm surge will look like at their address during different evacuation levels.