Why the current emphasis on storm surges?

Dear Tom,
I don’t remember hearing much about storm surges in the 1950s and 60s when hurricanes hit the coast. Why the current emphasis?
— Neil Ringquist, Glen Ellyn
Dear Neil,
Storm surges have always occurred with land-falling tropical cyclones but have become exponentially more important as sea levels rise and population increases in coastal areas. In the past, storm surges have been referred to as storm tides, storm waves and hurricane tides. Increasingly sophisticated forecast models and data measurement have produced more accurate and timely surge forecasts. The worst U.S. storm surge tragedy was during the 1900 Galveston Hurricane when more than 8,000 died. In Bangladesh, 1970 Cyclone Bhola caused more than 325,000 fatalities when a 20- to 25-foot storm surge swept across a densely populated area less than 10 feet above sea level.

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