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Assessing the surge

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By Dave Williams
dwilliams@abcnews4.com

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Hurricanes are environmentally a good thing for the earth because they transport heat and moisture away from the coast.

The problem is the human impact since they damage property and sometimes kill people. Since a hurricane can't be stopped, it is important to know the risks and get out of the way when appropriate.

"We need to convey the sense that the Lowcountry is called the Lowcountry for a reason. This water is going to come well inland, and you need to be prepared for that," said Lee Lindner, an associate professor of atmospheric physics at the College of Charleston.

Storm surge, a wall of ocean water, is the deadliest part of a hurricane and can penetrate several miles inland. Its size depends on the size and strength of a storm, the bathymetry of the coast and the geography of the land as to how big the surge will be. Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast of Mississippi with up to a 30-foot wall of water that moved up to three miles inland.

"When you say you are expecting a storm surge of 20 feet, a lot of us can understand what that means, and what the risk is, but other parts of the population may not. They may not know the elevation of their homes, and they don't know what kind of danger they are facing," Lindner said.

Some of the lack of understanding may arise from different education levels among the populace, complex meteorological terms or other variables. Whatever it is, it needs to be overcome so people get the message to evacuate. Lindner is working on a solution most everyone can understand.

"We're taking the theoretical data put out by the National Hurricane Center's SLOSH model, and we're combining that with elevation data and tidal estimates. Then we will place that over a photograph to show what the surge may look like," said Lindner.

The photograph would be of an easily identifiable landmark near where you live, to give you a reference of the danger you are about to face.

"It's a lot easier to convey the risks and dangers if you can show a nice image of what that would look like, as opposed to words of warning which people may just glance over," Lindner said.

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