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Afternoon Tides Could Bring Local Storm Surge

Hurricane Michael's effects are being felt in the Tampa Bay region. WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke with Spectrum Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay about areas of concern.

Mike Clay: It's important to remember that the storm surge flooding has nothing to do with rainfall, so you could have no rain and you could have water in the streets, because the storm surge is the higher water levels in the Gulf of Mexico that are pushed up by the Category 4 hurricane out there. So, we're going to have salt water that comes in.

This time of year the tides are astronomically high, anyway, so that just makes it worse - high tide this afternoon is between 1 and 4, depending on where you are across the area. So the the tides are going to be high anyway,  and now the water being pushed in by the hurricane will cause higher levels, mainly on  Nature Coast, but some of that water will get up around Tampa Bay too.


Meszaros: I understand Citrus County is already affected by flooding. Do you know anything about that area?

Clay: Well, they're the closest to the hurricane right now, and they also have a coast that's very susceptible to storm surge flooding. So the waters are shallow offshore, and the problem with Michael is that the water is being trapped up against the shore and between the hurricane. So it's not like Michael is out over the middle of the Atlantic. The water is trapped by the land mass of the Florida Peninsula, so it has no place to go. So everywhere from the Big Bend down the Nature Coast into Citrus and Hernando County will see elevated water levels at the high tides and some of that could do damage.

Meszaros: Just to be clear, can we go over the storm surge that's expected today?

Next couple of high tides will be kind of a cringe time because storm surge like this is almost impossible to predict exactly.

Clay: Citrus County could be, perhaps, 4 to 6 feet. You saw about that in Hermine a couple of years ago. As far south as the Tampa Bay area, we could see water up into the bay, maybe up on Bayshore, maybe in to the Shore Acres area this afternoon in Pinellas County, some of the low spots along Gulf Boulevard in Pinellas certainly will have water.

Again, that has nothing to do with the rain that's been coming down. Maybe Anna Maria down in Manatee County as well will have some problems. So, you know where you are, you know who you are, you've had these problems before. 

Next couple of high tides will be kind of a cringe time because storm surge like this is almost impossible to predict exactly. We kind of know what's going to happen, but the devil is in the details, and so we can't say exactly, but we know what's going to happen in this type of pattern, and we know we certainly could get some high water.

Meszaros: As I read we might have some flooding going in to (Thursday) morning.

Clay: The problem is at low tide, the water's not going to be able to go back out, so it's a lot easier to have problems at high tide. But as the hurricane makes landfall this afternoon and moves up into Alabama and Georgia and weakens, the effects will start to gradually go away.  So tomorrow we're hoping that it won't be quite as extreme, but for the next several tidal cycles, we could certainly still have some more problems.

Credit Citrus County Sheriff's Office / Twitter
Citrus County Sheriff's Office / Twitter
Fort Island Beach in Crystal River in Citrus County was already seeing storm surge from Hurricane Michael before high tide Wednesday afternoon.

Since 2012, I’ve been a voice on public radio stations across Florida - in Miami, Fort Myers, and now Tampa.
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