What is Storm Surge?
Accounting for the largest number of hurricane fatalities, storm surge is a dome of ocean water that is pushed ashore by the oncoming hurricane's winds. A major hurricane could push more than 30 feet of storm surge (the height of a three-story building) into some parts of New York City, and storm surge can travel several miles inland. Storm surge and large battering waves can endanger lives, destroy buildings, erode beaches and dunes, and damage roads and bridges.
Storm Surge and New York City
New York City collaborates with federal and state agencies to collect information about how hurricane storm surge might affect the region.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that New York City's low-lying, heavily populated neighborhoods are more exposed to the threat of coastal flooding in a hurricane than most people realized. During Hurricane Sandy, storm surge in Battery Park topped 13.88 feet, surpassing the 10.2 feet record set by Hurricane Donna in 1960. The surf of New York Harbor (located at the southern tip of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson River) reached a record level, measuring a 32.5-foot wave.
Large areas of southern Queens, southern Brooklyn, the lower east and west sides of Manhattan, and the perimeter of Staten Island could all suffer damage from a hurricane's storm surge. In addition, storm surge from a strong hurricane would not be limited to waterfront properties and could conceivably push miles inland in some areas. New York City's unique geography — located at a "bend" in the coastline between New Jersey and Long Island — makes it especially vulnerable.
Even a low-level hurricane that makes landfall near New York City could wash ocean waters over large sections of some coastal neighborhoods.
Storm surge can occur several hours before the hurricane itself makes landfall. It can also take place after a hurricane has moved away from the city, as high seas slump back into confined spaces like Long Island Sound.
Learn about New York City's hurricane evacuation zones