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Exploring Summer Threats: Storm surges don’t just impact the coastline

Weather Week

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ One of the most dangerous impacts of a hurricane are the storm surges they bring with them.

While the coastline is primarily hit by the brunt of the storm, surges can be just as dangerous for those living inland along harbors and rivers.

David Valle from the National Weather Service said Hurricane Carol is a perfect example, leaving Oakland Beach underwater.

“It’s hard to fathom, water traveling 8 to 10 feet, 10 blocks inland, up Oakland Beach into this neighborhood area,” he said.

He said Carol’s path was a worst-case scenario for Rhode Island. With the eye of the storm heading over Long Island and Connecticut, Carol generated a massive push of wind from the south.

“All of that energy that is building that large storm surge, that rise of ocean water, above the astronomical tide,” he explained. “It’s got one place to go, and that’s up Narragansett Bay, and when it gets inland, it’s got one thing to do and that’s go up in it’s elevation.”

It’s not just Oakland Beach that’s at risk of experiencing a storm surge.

“Coming further up the bay, the towns of Barrington, Bristol, Warren, these are areas that could see quite a bit of storm surge,” Valle said. “Barrington in particular because they have the Palmer River and the Barrington River to deal with.”

Even though Hurricane Sandy wasn’t a major storm, it certainly caused its fair share of damage. Sandy destroyed parts of the Westerly coast and also pushed water up into the Warren River, leading to major flooding and damage for the Wharf Tavern.

The Hurricane of ’38 brought in a quick storm surge that some witnesses described as a tidal wave sweeping over downtown Providence.

But since then, the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier was built. It’s designed to protect downtown Providence from strong storm surges, though Valle said flooding caused by excessive rainfall has to be handled much differently.

“That barrier has four hydraulic pumps that will draw that water down in advance so that we don’t create flooding behind the barrier due to runoff from rainfall,” Valle explained.

So how can residents living in areas at-risk of storm surges prepare? The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency has a list of flood safety tips residents can reference ahead of time to ensure they’re ready for a potential storm surge.

Valle said in the event of an evacuation, it takes eight-to-10 hours to clear the coastline.

“But they have to be willing to do it when the sun is out the day before the storm, not the morning of the storm,” Valle said.

Storm surge watches and warnings are now available sometimes up to two days in advance of an impending hurricane, which Valle said can provide a worst-case scenario of which areas could end up underwater.

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