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Tales of the Coast
Coastal Dynamics

Wind and Storms

The high winds and elevated water levels associated with storms significantly impact coasts across the United States. These intense systems of rotating wind can take the form of tropical storms, such as hurricanes and typhoons that form in tropical waters, or extratropical storms, including "northeasters," which occur in middle and high latitudes.

In shallow water, winds can pile up water against the shore, or they can drive it offshore. Storm surges, caused by a combination of low barometric pressure and high onshore winds, can raise sea level several meters, flooding coastal property. A storm surge represents the water surface response to wind-induced surface shear stress and pressure fields. Damages can be particularly severe when storm surges coincide with a local high spring tide.

Wind-induced storm surges and waves can transport large amounts of sediment and help open new inlets on barriers. Even on coasts where wind is not a significant factor in sediment transport, the coast is still affected by waves and storms that are wind-driven.

Aerial view of a hurricane
Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA)

Wind and Storms

The Saffir-Simpson Scale has been used for over 20 years by the U.S. National Weather Service to compare the intensity of tropical cyclones. Cyclones (storms) are ranked into five categories based on wind speed and the amount of damage that they cause, with 5 representing storms that cause catastrophic damage to structures.