Storm Surge

"The greatest potential for loss of life related to a hurricane is from the storm surge."

About a Storm Surge

Storm surge is simply water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the mean water level 15 feet or more. In addition, wind driven waves are superimposed on the storm tide. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding in coastal areas, particularly when the storm tide coincides with the normal high tides. Because much of the United States' densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coast coastlines lie less than 10 feet above mean sea level, the danger from storm tides is tremendous.

Surge Levels

The level of surge in a particular area is also determined by the slope of the continental shelf. A shallow slope off the coast (right picture below) will allow a greater surge to inundate coastal communities. Communities with a steeper continental shelf (left picture below) will not see as much surge inundation, although large breaking waves can still present major problems. Storm tides, waves, and currents in confined harbors severely damage ships, marinas, and pleasure boats.
Shallow Slope off the Coast

Sea, Lake, & Overland Surges from Hurricanes Programs

The National Hurricane Center uses a modeling program called SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes) to estimate the amount of storm surge to be expected from a hurricane. The model takes into account wind speed, forward speed, barometric pressure, track, and size of the hurricane to provide the estimate for a given area. The parameters entered into the model for the storm combine with the characteristics of the particular area, referred to as a basin which will provide expected results. The results of the SLOSH model is accurate within 20%. For example, if the model indicates 10 feet of flooding, the actual amount of flooding will normally be between 8 to 10 feet. The amount of storm surge is verified after each land falling hurricane and compared to the estimates that the SLOSH model provided for the storm.

Storm Surge Flood Map

A map has been produced for all areas in coastal Virginia which indicates the potential flooding caused by storm surge. This map is a composite of many storm scenarios with various intensities, forward speeds, and directions of approach. The model is based on the Chesapeake Bay Basin. No single storm would result in the flooding indicated on the map. Storm surge models do not take rainfall into consideration. Rainfall flooding will be in addition to storm surge flooding. In many cases, areas that normally do not have a rainfall flooding problem may have unprecedented flooding.


The maps below require Adobe Reader to view.

Storm Surge Maps

City of Portsmouth GIS Interactive Map

You may also view specific properties in the city of Portsmouth using the Department of Information Technology Geographical Information System (GIS) Interactive Map. View the Geographical Information System (GIS) Interactive Map and follow the instructions on the main page to get started. This interactive map offers a wealth of information for residential property and business owners including flood zones for specific neighborhoods.

Type of Damage to Expect

Wind Speed
Storm Surge
1 74 - 95 mph
4 - 5 feet Primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs.
2 96 -110 mph 6 - 8 feet Some roofing material, door, and window damage to buildings. Considerable damage to shrubbery and trees.
3 111-130 mph 9 - 12 feet Some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings, large trees blown down, mobile homes and poorly constructed signs destroyed.
4 131-155 mph 13 - 18 feet Some complete roof failures on small residences. Shrubs, trees, and all signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Extensive damage to doors and windows.
5 >155 mph >18 feet Some complete building failure with small utility buildings blown over or away. All shrubs, trees, and signs blown down. Complete destruction of mobile homes. Severe and extensive damage to doors and windows.