What is Reverse Storm Surge and How is it Related to Climate Change?

Reverse Storm Surge

After tackling one or two hurricanes, anyone may feel they have become a storm expert. After all, when the Met Department predicts any windstorm again, you will already know how you are to stock ration, water, gas, etc. and seek refuge during strong winds and torrential rain. The recent hurricanes in Florida and nearby states indeed caused large-scale destruction but the residents of these places had already been forewarned.

However, one cannot do much when storms start behaving unpredictably? This happened five years back as well and it again took place recently. The phenomenon is called Reverse Storm Surge and it was witnessed in Tampa Bay in particular on both the occasions. Forget about locals, it even sent scientists into a tizzy.

Storm surges happen when a storm starts nearing a coastline, causing high tides and flooding in the coastal and nearby areas. And in a reverse storm surge, you get to witness the exact opposite. After almost reaching the center of a state from its coastline, a storm starts rotating in an anticlockwise direction, pushing water from the land toward the sea. The winds are again powerful enough to do the opposite of what they have already done. A reverse storm surge can in even happen prior to a storm surge depending on how the storm is approaching. This is precisely what happened when Hurricane Irma arrived in Tampa Bay and there was a repeat this year as well.

Bare ground, especially along the coastline, is what you get to see in the wake of a reverse storm surge, which is always a possibility no matter where a hurricane makes a landfall in the US, at the eastern coast or in the gulf.

Again while a storm surge happens around and toward the right of where a storm reaches terra firma, reverse storm as expected happens on the left. Tampa Bay was on the left of where Hurricane Ian made a landfall.

RSS in Tampa Bay

As we mentioned earlier, there have been two unforgettable instances of Reverse Storm in Tampa Bay on two separate occasions caused by two different hurricanes and we will shed a bit of light on both of them.

Hurricane Irma 2017

The first happened in 2017. The residents of Tampa Bay area were waiting for the arrival of Hurricane Irma when they witnessed something unusual. In the build up to the hurricane, many areas of Florida saw their water levels receding temporarily. A newsperson informed everyone that the development had taken place as a result of powerful offshore winds that kept blowing for hours on end.

Some areas of Tampa Bay that had long been covered with water all of a sudden started sporting a dry look. The storm was making its way from the south and what was happening was that the northwest side of Hurricane Irma was pushing water from the Tampa Bay area into the gulf, leading to the formation of several drained bays. Water levels in fact decreased by as much as 6 feet.

While the arrival of the storm was inevitable, many did not consider it risky to explore the dried areas, something one does during low tide. However, a reverse storm surge is not something as simple as a low tide. In its wake, it leaves things you do not see often and the people of Tampa Bay too spotted aquatic creatures stuck in mud who they were kind enough to release in water once more. However, it wasn’t long before things reverted to their erstwhile state.

Hurricane Ian 2022

The second occurrence happened in September this year. The water levels of Tampa Bay had become normal like before but as Hurricane Ian started pummeling the western coast of Florida, the residents of Tampa, as had happened with them half a decade back, once again saw an aberration, which though was déjà vu for many.

The water level started going down and areas that normally remained submerged under 12 feet of water became exposed, letting onlookers stare at sand and silt. Again, locals could not resist the urge to venture into the dried area and find something rare. Many happily shared their images on social media.

And Tampa Bay wasn’t the only place that fell prey to Reverse Storm Surge. Similar developments took place in St. Petersburg, East Bay, and Cedar Key where water levels went back by 5 to 8 feet.


Many inferences can be drawn from the topic being discussed. While a reverse storm surge cannot be the harbinger of something as mighty as a tsunami whose arrival is preceded by a sharp drop in water levels along a coastline, it, as mentioned earlier, can signal the imminent arrival of a hurricane.

Now if reverse storm surges have especially been witnessed in Tampa Bay twice, there has to be some correlation between bays and this strange phenomenon. It will not be wrong to say that bays are susceptible to reverse storm surges as they are surrounded by land on all sides barring one through which strong winds manage to pull the water level down.

The intensity of the storm also matters. A mild storm shall not succeed in causing a reverse storm damage. Everyone knows how strong Hurricane Ian was that made its landfall as a category 4 storm and had the wind speed been just a few mph higher, it may have even graduated to category 5.

Now how much a reverse storm surge is related to climate change is a matter of conjecture or the prerogative of meteorological experts to decide. But both storm and reverse storm surges have their genesis in storms that have long been considered an unavoidable natural calamity.

If either of the recent storms namely Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole managed to cause harm to your physical property and now has you waiting anxiously for the settlement of your insurance claim, it will be advisable if you rope in an experienced public adjuster like Benito Paul who has been handling such cases for ages. Not only will he speed up your claim settlement process, he may even maximize the compensation to a figure that you may not even have thought of. He will enlighten you properly on storm damage and flood damage and for the uninitiated, the latter is not covered in home insurance.

P.S – If you live in a place like Florida or any similar coastal state that is vulnerable to storm invasion, it is recommended you have walls and fences that can survive the onslaught of squalls and tempests.