St. Petersburg, Florida -- The Tampa Bay area is famous for its sugary sand-laden Gulf beaches and beautiful bays, but being surrounded by water makes us especially vulnerable to hurricanes.
Dr. Rick Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center, warns that the bays provide a way for the ocean to get closer to Tampa Bay's infrastructure.
"If a hurricane comes in at a particular angle and pushes all of the Gulf of Mexico water into the Bay, and the water is going to rise ... you're gong to have places that could flood and haven't in a long time," he said.
This dramatic rise in water level in the Bay could result in catastrophic flooding across downtown Tampa.
Even a hurricane making landfall hundreds of miles away could produce significant flooding at the coastline from storm surge, and evacuation zones for hurricane storm surge don't just go blocks inland. In many cases, they can go miles inland along the west coast of Florida.
Storm surge has historically been the largest loss of life in a hurricane, with more than half of all deaths attributed to hurricanes coming from water.
National Hurricane Center storm specialist Jamie Rhome warns residents, "It's water, not wind, which is killing people here in hurricanes in the U.S."
National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb and Storm Surge Specialist Jamie Rhome talk about Tampa Bay’s vulnerability and a brand new product that could potentially save lives if a hurricane moves onshore.
In an effort to save lives, the National Hurricane Center has partnered with meteorologists around the country, including the 10 Weather Team, to issue a new product called the Potential Storm Surge Flooding Map.
"The vast majority of people get their information through television, so if you're going to do something different, and especially if you're going to try to communicate something more clearly, it doesn't make any sense not to bring the TV meteorologist to the table when you are designing it," said Rhome.
The new map will answer two questions: how far inland could the water go and how high above ground level could the water get?
Whereas the current evacuation maps tell you whether or not you live in an evacuation zone, the new map will give you specific information about the impact from storm surge you can expect based on an approaching storm.
The National Hurricane Center hopes the map will emphasize the water hazards due to storm surge and show that tropical storms and hurricanes are not just about wind.
The potential storm surge flooding map will be issued at the same time as the initial hurricane watch or, in some cases, with a tropical storm watch. The map is based on the latest forecast track and intensity for the tropical cyclone.
The map can change every six hours in association with every new National Hurricane Center full advisory package.
After unveiling the map this year, the NHC will take the added step of issuing a storm surge warning in addition to hurricane warnings.
The hurricane warnings and storm surge warnings can be issued separately for different areas. So potentially some areas may be under a hurricane warning where others may be under a storm surge warning.