Monday, December 15, 2014

Texas A&M Galveston Hosts Houston/Galveston Flood Protection Workshop

Texas A&M Galveston is hosting a workshop on storm surge flooding for the Houston/ Galveston area. The workshop is bringing together engineers, planners, coastal scientists, surge modelers and geographers. Organizations represented include Texas A&M Galveston, SSPEED Center, Rice University, Texas A&M College Station, UT Austin, Jackson State University, SCIPP and LSU.

Dr. William Merrell, of Texas A&M Galveston, addresses the audience at a coastal flood workshop this morning in Galveston. Photo: Hal Needham

These organizations are dialoguing about critical flood protection that are essential to protect the region from storm surge. The Houston Ship Channel, one if the largest petrochemical complexes in the world, is located in this region, but has little protection against a massive storm surge. The workshop wraps up tomorrow.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Despite Quiet Atlantic Hurricane Season, We're Still Emerging from the "Decade of Destruction"

Well another chapter in the Atlantic Hurricane Seasons book has closed, and this year was another quiet one. This year the basin observed eight named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, which is less than the 1981-2010 climatological average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season                         1981-2010 Climatological Average
Named Storms: 8                                               Named Storms: 12
Hurricanes: 6                                                     Hurricanes: 6
Major Hurricanes: 2                                            Major Hurricanes: 3

 Hurricane Arthur had the biggest impact on the U.S. during the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season. The category-2 hurricane impacted the Carolinas on July 3-4, pushing storm surge into towns like Manteo, NC.

This season was the ninth consecutive year without a major hurricane landfall in the United States, which is the longest stretch since record keeping began in 1851 (Masters 2014). It was also the ninth consecutive year in which Florida did not observe a landfalling hurricane, which is the longest period for that state (Solomon 2014). And, interestingly enough, this year also ended with a powerful typhoon striking the Philippines near the end of the Atlantic Hurricane Season
 The UNC School of Government's Public Administration program created an infographic that summarizes severe hurricane impacts in the U.S. from 2004-2013.

However, before we let our guard down, we must remember that we are just coming off a very destructive decade of hurricane activity in the Atlantic. The University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Government's Public Administration program posted a fascinating infographic, called, "Decade of Destruction: The High Cost of Hurricanes," that captures climatological statistics and human impacts of this hazardous period, which they define as 2004-2013. The infographic can be found at this link:

 UNC's "Decade of Destruction" Infographic provides fascinating information related to the impact of hurricanes in the United States from 2004-2013.

This infographic contains many interesting factoids about hurricane impacts during the past decade. For example, did you know that hurricanes inflicted $310 billion in losses and claimed 2,334 deaths between 2004-2013? Did you know that 77 hurricanes and 35 major hurricanes formed in the Atlantic during this period? Or that the federal government only spends $1 on disaster reduction for every $6 it spends on disaster recovery?

These are just a few examples of hurricane impacts you'll find at this site. This is an excellent resource, as it's always important to step back and look at the bigger picture. Otherwise, it's easy to let our guard down after a few quiet seasons on the home front.

           The Infographic contains a mind-boggling graphic that summarizes financial losses of recent U.S. hurricanes. Yes, those numbers are BILLIONS of dollars!

Masters, J., 2014: The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season Ends with Below-Average Activity. Dr. Jeff Masters Wunderblog. Available on the Web at:

Solomon, J., 2014: For ninth year, Florida avoids hurricanes. Tampa Bay Times, November 30, 2014. Available on the Web at:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hagupit/ Ruby Storm Surge Photos and Videos Map

Short and sweet post today. My main contribution to the world in the past 24 hours is the creation of a Super Typhoon Hagupit/ Ruby Storm Surge Photos and Videos Map. This Google-driven map places surge photos and video in the location where they were shot. Each observation comes with an approximate time stamp.

Click on the map below:

 Hagupit/ Ruby Storm Surge Photos and Videos Map
The Hagupit/ Ruby Storm Surge Photos and Video Map plots the location of surge media on a map, enabling the media to be organized spatially. Source: Hal Needham

This is an experimental web-tool and I'm running it for the first time during Hagupit/ Ruby. I'm hoping this helps spatially organize the media related to storm surge coming out of the Philippines. For example, notice how calm the water was on the west side of Samar compared to the rough waters/ waves on the north and east side of the Island on Saturday.

This pic from Borongan City, in Eastern Samar, is placed on the map where it was actually taken. Note the rough surf and storm surge that is already inundating the landscape.

Note how calm the water is at Calbayog City, on the western side of Samar, on the same date. This location is approximately 100 km (62 miles) from Borongan City, but is protected from high water from Samar at this time.

Please reply to this post with any comments or suggestions, or feel free to send me an email at hal"at" Also, always feel free to send me pics or video of surge from the storm!

Hurricane Hal

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Philippines Has a History of Catastrophic, Fast-Moving Storm Surges

When Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) slammed the Philippines last year, it generated a tsunami-like storm surge that rapidly swept over portions of southern Samar and Leyte, including the city of Tacloban. Surge levels exceeded 6.1 m (20 ft), and many people exclaimed that such a catastrophic surge had never been seen before in the Philippines.

However, if we dig into the history of the Philippines, we find numerous storm surge events that were catastrophic. The water in some of these events rushed in very rapidly, much like Haiyan's surge.

Super Typhoon Haiyan generated a tsunami-like storm surge last year near Tacloban, Leyte. The force of this sudden surge carried ships into neighborhoods. Image: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

One reason the Philippines is so vulnerable to storm surges is because they take so many direct hits from powerful typhoons. In fact, the Philippines experience more strikes from power tropical cyclones than any other nation on Earth. In the 43-year period from 1948-1990, 850 tropical cyclones entered the Philippines Area of Responsibility (PAR), which averages to approximately 20 tropical cyclones per year (Soriano 1992; Bankoff 2003). During this period, 384 tropical cyclones made landfall in the Philippines, or an average of about nine tropical cyclones per year (Arafiles et al. 1984; Soriano 1992). This nation observes storm surges about four to six times per year (Arafiles et al. 1984).

The unique landscape of the Philippines, which is an archipelago, consisting of hundreds of islands, also impacts storm surge patterns. The shape and orientation of these islands enables water levels to rise rapidly and very locally, meaning one side of an island may experience a large storm surge, while the other side, sometimes just several km away, experiences no storm surge at all.

The Philippines are made up of thousands of islands, which influence storm surges into very localized patterns.
Image: George Tapan 

The Philippines has observed seven of the top 10 storm surge levels in the history of East Asia. Here is a list of these top seven water levels from the SURGEDAT database:

Rank     Height (m)        Year          Storm Name                             Location
1            9.14*                1968         Didang                                      Narvacan Ilocos Sur
2            7.30                  1897         Typhoon of Samar/Leyte          Samar and Leyte
3            7.00                  1912         Typhoon of Leyte/Cebu            Leyte and Cebu
4            6.50                  2013         Haiyan                                      Tacloban, Leyte
5            4.60                  1984         Unnamed                                  Sarangani Island
6            4.50                  1983         Unnamed                                  Near Infanta
7            4.50                  1981         Rosita                                       South of Tinambac
* Questionable accuracy

This list provides some interesting information. The highest storm surge in the Philippines history is a 9.14 m surge at Narvacan Ilocos Sur in 1968. However, this surge event is questionable, as the number was only provided by a historic map, and no text or anecdotal stories confirm destruction of a large surge that year. Also, the location of this surge event is in the northwest portion of Luzon, which means that this surge would have been produced by wrap-around winds on the backside of a typhoon. It is doubtful such winds could produce a 9-m surge.

However, what is confirmed very well in the history are the 7.3-m (24-ft) and 7.0-m (23-ft) surges that occurred in 1897 and 1912, respectively, as well  as the 6.5-m (21.3-ft) surge generated by Haiyan last year in Tacloban. These events are confirmed by several historic sources and stand as the highest credible surge events in the history of East Asia.  And the surges for all of these events peaked in the "Eastern Visayas" region of the Philippines, in the regions of Leyte and Samar.

This provides context for Hagupit, which is a large, powerful category-4 tropical cyclone, approaching the region with the top three surges in the East Asia Hall of Fame.

Super Typhoon Hagupit is a large, category-4 typhoon, approaching the most dangerous region in East Asia for storm surge. The three highest storm surges in the history of East Asia occurred just south of Hagupit's forecast track.
Image and Info: Hal Needham

History tells us a few things about these surge events. One important fact is that the flood waters can stick around for awhile. For example, the 7.3-m (24-ft) surge that struck in 1897 persisted for at least three hours (Bankoff 2003).

Perhaps even more important is the fact that surges in the Philippines can strike extremely rapidly. This is because of the complex configuration of the islands, inlets and bays. For example, when Haiyan struck last year, eyewitnesses described the storm surge like a rapidly-moving tsunami. This pattern has happened other times as well. In 1908 a storm surge struck the community of Tarol so suddenly that many people could not escape the wrath of this event. According to Arafiles and Alcances (1978, pg. 366),

It was about 4 A.M. of the 13th, when we observed that the water was rising and beginning to flood the lowland of the town, but no one gave this fact any importance as it is usual, when a typhoon passes, that the water of the river rises about a meter. But at about 6 A.M. almost suddenly the waves of the sea like mountains of water precipitated themselves upon the barrio of Tarol, destroying houses and whatever they met in their way. The level of the sea rose so rapidly that only some of the inhabitants had time to escape and save their lives.

Fascinating history. Here we have a location that frequently observes storm surges, so few people take notice or evacuate when the typhoon winds intensify. However, each typhoon track is unique from others, and apparently the track of this storm was just perfect to push a sudden surge into Tarol. The surge claimed many lives because the rapidity at which it struck. It is likely that the surge was not even that high....the highest storm surge in the SURGEDAT database for 1908 is a 3.0 m (10 ft) surge. It's just likely that this surge struck like a wall of water, inundating the community all at once.

As Super Typhoon Hagupit bears down on the Philippines, it will produce a unique storm surge pattern never seen before. Highest surges will occur in areas of strong onshore winds. Image: NOAA

Super Typhoon Hagupit threatens to devastate portions of the Philippines with strong winds, heavy rains and high storm surge. Keep in mind that storm surge is very localized, so an area with strong onshore winds could observe a 3-m surge, for example, while a location just a few km away observes a surge less than 1 m. Also, Hagupit will generate a very different inundation profile than Haiyan, so some areas that did not observe high water last year will experience the rapid onset of a high surge and destructive waves.


Arafiles, C.P., and C.P. Alcances, Jr., 1978: Storm Surge Potentials of Selected Philippine Coastal Basins, available on the Web at:

Arafiles, C.P., L.A. Amadore, C.S. Doctor, and C.L. Davis, 1984: Vulnerability of the Philippines to Storm Surges, Proceedings of the Second Symposium on Tropical Cyclones in the South China Sea and Western North Pacific Ocean, Quezon City, Philippines, 11-13 December 1984, pgs 142-151.

Bankoff, G., 2003: Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazard in the Philippines, Published by RoutledgeCurzon, London, United Kingdom, 232 pp.

Soriano, B., 1992: Tropical Cyclone, Statistics in the Bicol Region, Ang Tagamasid, 20, 15 pp.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hagupit's (Ruby's) Storm Surge Much Different than Haiyan's (Yolanda's)

As Super Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) approaches the Philippines, we wonder about the storm surge potential. This is especially fresh in everyone's mind, as Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) generated a massive storm surge along the coasts of Samar and Leyte just 13 months ago. Surge heights near Tacloban exceeded 6.1 m (20 ft), and thousands of people died.

Hagupit's storm surge will be different than Haiyan's for several reasons. Fortunately, Hagupit appears to be weakening as it approaches the Archipelago. The latest forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center suggests the center of Hagupit's circulation will skirt the northern coast of Samar as a category-3 typhoon, with sustained winds of 100 kts (115 mph, 195 kmh). Although such winds are powerful enough to cause considerable damage, they are a far cry from Haiyan's maximum sustained winds of 195 mph, which was the most powerful wind speed at landfall of any tropical cyclone in history.

Super Typhoon Hagupit is forecast to track near the northern coast of Samar as a category-3 cyclone.
Image: Weather Underground

Nonetheless, satellite loops from approximately 0300-0600 UTC Dec 05 show Hagupit coming out of an eyewall replacement cycle. On the back end, a large eye, and likely a large wind field, emerge. Large wind fields generate higher surges than smaller wind fields, and may help a category-3 typhoon generate a surge more typical of a category-4 or 5 system. So we must remain vigilant about potential surge.

Hagupit developed a large eye and likely a large wind field following an eyewall replacement cycle. The large wind field is of concern because it will help enhance storm surge levels. Image: NOAA

Hagupit is also taking a different track than Haiyan, which should change the storm surge pattern considerably. Both PAGASA and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecast Hagupit to track near the northern coast of Samar. This will mean that the highest surge potential will be for areas of northern Samar and southern Luzon, while areas of southern Samar and Leyte, which observed catastrophic surge in Haiyan, should observe relatively low surges.

Surge snapshot map for Typhoon Hagupit shows high, medium and low surge potential as Hagupit's eye skirts the northern coast of Samar. Note the offshore winds, and low surge, near Tacloban.

The map above provides a potential surge "snapshot" as Hagupit's eye tracks near the northern coast of Samar. In this scenario, offshore winds along the east coast of Leyte, near Tacloban, would minimize surge levels, and even produce negative surges in some areas. It should be noted that this surge map is a possible scenario that could happen at one point in time. This map does NOT indicate predicted surge heights for the duration of the storm.

Also keep in mind that it is better to consider a range of landfall locations instead of just zeroing in on one forecast path. Therefore, this map should just be used to provide a concept of surge potential. Also note that storm surge heights are very localized. Therefore, although this map paints coastal regions in the same color, in the real world, surge levels will vary considerably across short distances.

In November, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan tracked just south of Tacloban, Leyte. This track enabled destructive winds to blow into San Pedro and San Pablo Bay, pushing a massive surge towards Tacloban. This image was originally posted in the blog on Nov 12, 2013. Satellite Image: CIMSS/ SSEC/ Univ of Wisconsin- Madison.

Although it is likely that storm surge levels will be low near Tacloban and other areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan last year, some areas in northern Samar and southern Luzon will likely observe higher surge levels than during Haiyan, because of Hagupit's different storm track.