Hurricane flooding is a killer.
More than a thousand people died in New Orleans in the Hurricane Katrina disaster, mostly from drowning; most of the drowning victims were elderly people who lived near levee breach locations in the Lower 9th Ward and Lakeview sections of the city.
When Hurricane Ike struck Texas in 2008, thousands of people remained in Galveston despite warnings and evacuation orders; hundreds were rescued as the water rose, and thousands were rescued after the storm's surge subsided. Eight people drowned during Hurricane Ike.
Hurricane Sandy's major flooding struck New Jersey and New York in 2012; 40 people drowned during that flooding, according to a Centers for Disease Control study of Red Cross mortality data. The report concluded that "drowning was the most common cause of death related to Sandy, and 45% of drowning deaths occurred in flooded homes in New York City's Evacuation Zone A." (See: "Deaths Associated with Hurricane Sandy — October–November 2012," CDC.)
Traditionally, hurricane warnings have emphasized wind speed. But that policy has led some people to underestimate the flooding risk at their locations. Hurricane Ike, for example, was just a Category 2 storm as it approached Texas, but carried an outsize storm surge that arrived ahead of the wind and trapped many victims who wanted to evacuate, but made their moves too late. This year, authorities are gearing up to provide better warnings about flood risk.
Huffington Post carries this Reuters report (see: "New Hurricane Forecast Will Emphasize Storm Surge Preparation With Flood Risk Map," by Barbara Liston). "When the Atlantic hurricane season opens June 1, national forecasters will roll out a new feature: color-coded and broadcast-ready maps to graphically show the potential for flooding from storm surges," reports Reuters. "Jamie Rhome, storm surge specialist for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the maps are the result of years of experience and recent polling that found most Americans living on vulnerable coastlines paid too much attention to hurricane wind strength and not enough to storm surge before deciding whether to evacuate ahead of a storm."