NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - There was tremendous focus on Irma's winds, but we know that storm surge is the deadliest part of a hurricane. Much of the impact zone was spared the worst of that hazard.
With storm surge, we are used to seeing the bubble of water out ahead of the storm combined with winds to create the rise in water. With Irma that's what we saw as it headed into the Bahamas, but with such strong winds, the northerly flow pushed water away from many beaches.
Incredible video showed all of the water pushed out of some bays and beaches. Irma started out in the usual way, but we saw dramatic differences as it approached Florida on the east and west coast.
On the east coast we saw the typical water rise aided by strong winds pushing water inland. The west coast saw water pushed away from the shore with the storm surge coming in on the backside after the eye had passed.
Storm surge warnings continue to extend north with major effects as far away as Charlotte.
The graph of tidal heights compared to wind and direction show a different perspective. These are the observations from Virginia Key that's just near downtown Miami shows the water rising along with the strongest winds. Preliminary water levels topped out around 6 feet. That was about 4 feet higher than the expected rise
Looking at the west coast Tampa where we saw the bays go dry saw the highest winds out of the northeast followed by a period where the tide fell below a level the gauge could read. The water returns as soon as the wind shifts. The height of 2 feet above the average wasn't very dramatic, but it shows the unusual transition especially when you factor in the nearly 6 foot drop during the height of the storm.
Father south at Naples where the eye wall moved through we saw a 7 foot surge. A drop in water levels came as the northeast winds in the eye wall were blowing then there was a lull as the eye moved in and the backside of the eye wall coincides with that highest water level.
The angle of approach to the coast and the fact that we saw significant weakening of the eye wall made a huge difference in Irma's Gulf Coast surge. The way flooding is playing out on the east coast is another reminder of the importance of understanding the far reach of powerful hurricanes.