When looking at some of the most notable storm surge events in history, it is important to note that large death totals have most often been the result of a 10-foot or greater rise in storm surge. The serious storm surge events compiled here are broken into tropical and extratropical events, with the tropical events further broken down by date.
Statistics and other information on the events listed here were compiled from summaries, preliminary reports, and final reports available on the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center websites.
2011 - "Bering Sea Superstorm" or Alaska's "Storm of Epic Magnitude"
The Bering Sea Superstorm, considered the strongest to hit western Alaska in several decades and labeled "an extremely dangerous and life-threatening storm of an epic magnitude rarely experienced," brought winds as high as 100 miles per hour, snow with blizzard conditions, and storm surge of 10 feet onto the shores of Nome in early November. The storm surge in Kivalina, an Inupiat village, was measured at about 5.5 feet. This storm was closely followed by a second, smaller Bering Sea storm that sent additional storm surges into coastal towns and villages during high tide. No deaths or injuries were reported from the storm, attributed to sparse population, very early warnings, and careful emergency planning, but one person was reported missing. Damage included severe beach erosion, roof and structural damage to homes and businesses, loss of heat and electricity, and roads blocked by debris. This storm was compared to the equivalent of about a Category 3 hurricane.
2009 - "Nor'Ida" or the "Veteran's Day Storm" (formed from remnants of Hurricane Ida)
Hurricane Ida dissipated over the Florida Panhandle, but Ida’s remnants contributed to the formation of a separate, strong extratropical low, called Nor'Ida or the Veteran's Day Storm, that affected the U.S. east coast for several days in early November. The interaction between this extratropical low and a strong high pressure system over eastern Canada brought strong winds, coastal flooding, and heavy rains to the mid-Atlantic region. The situation produced large wave heights, strong wave action at the shore, and moderate to severe flooding, with the highest water levels reaching 7 to 8 feet along the coast of New Jersey. Flooding on some barrier islands was worse on the bay side than on the ocean side because of the build-up of water between tide cycles during this lengthy event. The high water mark at Sewells Point in Norfolk, VA, was 7.75 feet - just 3.24 inches under the all-time record high level.
1993 - "Superstorm"
The Superstorm of March '93 was named for its large area of impact, all the way from Florida and Alabama north through New England. Unlike most nor'easters that move up the coast, this storm took a more inland track across Southeast Virginia and the central Chesapeake Bay. The Superstorm was a major severe weather event in the southeast, caused flooding and snow in the Mid-Atlantic states, and brought blizzard conditions in the northeast. The Superstorm was blamed for some 200 deaths (most were indirectly caused by heart attacks brought on by overexertion while shoveling snow). In Florida, the Superstorm produced a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet that killed 11 people (more deaths than the surges from Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew combined) and spawned 11 tornadoes.
1992 - "Great Nor'easter" or "The Downslope Nor'easter"
The Great Nor'easter of 1992 did tremendous damage to New Jersey and hit New England hard, in addition to lashing the mid-Atlantic coast with winds and waves, and causing moderate flooding in Maryland in mid-December. The New York City area saw storm tides of up to 12 feet higher than normal. The tide rose to a record height of 10.3 feet above mean lower low water on the bay side of Sandy Hook, NJ, while the tide gage on the oceanfront at the Trump Pier in Atlantic City, NJ, rose to a record height of 9.3 feet above mean lower low water. The Reedy Point tide gage located in New Castle, DE, rose to a record height of 9.5 feet above mean lower low water. About 10 people had to be rescued, while this storm was responsible for 10 deaths and total damages were estimated to be around $2 billion.
1991 - "Halloween Nor'easter" or the "Perfect Storm"
Although it didn't make landfall, the Halloween Nor'easter of 1991 (also known as the "Perfect Storm") caused destruction from New England to North Carolina, and even caused some damage in southern Florida and Puerto Rico on October 31. The southern New England coast was the most seriously impacted, bringing max surge levels of about 5 feet and storm tide in Boston of over 14 feet. The maximum wave height in Boston (waves on top of surge) was estimated at 30 feet. Maine saw high tide of 3.4 feet above normal, in addition to waves of 15 to 30 feet. Tide heights in southern New Jersey were exceeded only by the Hurricane of 1944. North Carolina saw waves 10-15 feet high, and Ocean City, MD, saw record high tide of 7.8 feet. This nor'easter was responsible for 12 deaths and 1998 dollar value damage estimates approached $1 billion.
1978 - "Blizzard of '78" or "New England Blizzard"
The Blizzard of '78 formed as a weak extratropical cyclone off the coast of South Carolina, but brought huge amounts of snow and serious coastal flooding to New England as it stalled there for nearly 36 hours in early February. Surge of 4 feet, with waves of 12 feet on top of that, meant tides along the southern New England coast were more than 16 feet above normal levels, bringing devastating high tides for four successive tide cycles (two days) with continual onshore flow. This major coastal flooding resulted in massive property loss, broken sea walls, and beach erosion. The Blizzard of '78 was responsible for 99 deaths in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and damage in New England was estimated to be $1 billion.
1974 - Bering Sea Storm
The Bering Sea storm hit Nome, AK, on November 11-12, causing a storm surge of more than 13 feet. Water overflowed from the harbor, went over the sea wall in Nome, and rose to a depth of over 5 feet in the low lying areas of the city. This storm was the strongest in Nome's 113 years of weather records, producing the worst coastal flooding on record for the region. No lives were lost, but the flooding caused between $12 and $15 million in damages.
1962 - "Ash Wednesday Storm"
The Ash Wednesday Storm was perhaps the most intense nor'easter of the 20th century. This early March storm caused major coastal erosion from North Carolina to Long Island, NY. In New Jersey alone, the storm severely damaged or destroyed 45,000 homes. Water reached 9 feet at Norfolk (flooding begins around 5 feet) and 7 feet on the Virginia coast. Ocean City, MD, sustained major damage, especially to the south end of the island. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague were completely underwater from the surge. Winds up to 70 mph built 40-foot waves at sea. The Ash Wednesday Storm caused over $200 million in property damage (1962 dollars) and the Red Cross recorded that 40 people died in the storm.
1956 - Nor'easter
A severe nor'easter caused unusually high tides in the Tidewater, VA, area on April 11. The tide in Hampton Roads, VA, reached 4.6 feet above normal, and the high water mark was 6.32 feet at Sewells Point in Norfolk, VA. Thousands of homes were flooded and damages were large. Two ships, including the Etrusco freighter, were washed ashore. Water-front fires were fanned by the high winds and the flooded streets made access for firefighters very difficult, adding to the losses.