Tampa, FL -- What a difference a few miles makes.
Hurricane Matthew's eye staying offshore as it approached Florida helped reduce damages in areas like Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
But experts warn If a similar hurricane ever hovered the same distance off the Gulf Coast, the results would be disastrously different.
“You’ve got to remember that storms on the East Coast and the West Coast are different,” said Grayson Kamm, Communications Director for Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry, or MOSI.
It’s important, says Kamm, that people not view the images of what happened after Matthew in South Florida and make assumptions about how such a scenario would affect Tampa Bay.
There are actually two reasons, say experts, why a hurricane skirting along the gulf coast would be far worse than an Atlantic storm like Matthew.
The first Is the intensity felt on land.
An Atlantic storm keeps the strongest part of a hurricane - its east side - offshore.
“It’s that right front of the hurricane, the part that would come over our land, from the gulf coast that is the most powerful. It's the front line, the leading edge of the storm,” said Kamm.
Secondly, there’s a difference in storm surge.
At MOSI we conducted a quick demonstration that illustrates why the storm surge from a hurricane hovering just offshore in the Atlantic would be very different from one just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
To do so, we filled a 20 gallon trash can with water and used a fan to show hard it is to push water over the edge of the trash can.
That’s because the water column beneath the surface layer is much deeper and therefore much heavier.
But then we put water in the shallow lid from the same the trashcan, which was much more shallow – closer to representing the topography of the Gulf.
Same circumference. Same fan. Same distance.
But the "hurricane" created by our fan had no problem blowing the water right over the edge of the lid.
That water, says Kamm, represents damaging - even deadly storm surge. Pouring into our coastal neighborhoods.
“I think they should take it seriously,” said Aileen Gonzalez, watching our little experiment.
Dustin Hahn, also watching, agreed. “It could flood a lot easier,” he concluded.
So, if you're watching the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, don't assume that if a similar storm or even a weaker one were to come that close to our coastline that it would not do more damage.
To do so, say experts, could be a grave mistake.
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