SURGEDAT: SURGEWATCH’s partner from across the pond!

By Matthew Wadey

In 2013, whilst we were developing the idea of SurgeWatch, we attended the EVAN (Extreme Value Analysis for Natural Hazards) 2013 conference in Siegen Germany. An outstanding talk was given by “Hurricane” Hal F. Needham of Louisiana State University (LSU) – click here to see it. This presentation described a body of work which focused upon the US Gulf Coast, and motivated us to get SurgeWatch up-and-running.

Whilst he was a graduate student, Hal along with State Climatologist and LSU Professor Barry D. Keim created ‘SURGEDAT’, the first comprehensive storm surge database for the US Gulf Coast. SURGEDAT primarily relies on scientific documentation, like federal government reports and numerous academic publications. Government sources include the National Hurricane Center, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Geological Survey and US Army Corps of Engineers. SURGEDAT also incorporates extensive newspaper archives, particularly for storm surges that occurred earlier in the record. LSU lies in the middle of the Gulf Coast where intense tropical storms and large surges have caused huge floods. For example the 1900 Galveston (Texas) hurricane was the deadliest in US history, killing at least 8,000 people. More than a century later in August 2005 Hurricane Katrina caused at least 1,800 fatalities. Katrina’s surge peaked at between 7 m and 10 m along sections of the Mississippi coastline, and penetrated up to 20 km inland along bays and rivers (Frtitz et al., 2007). The idea behind Hal’s work was that a database of past storm surge observations would allow researchers to better understand the characteristics of these events and future risks (Needham & Keim, 2012). The project has now expanded beyond the Gulf Coast, incorporating hundreds of sources to generate a global dataset and map (Needham et al., 2015).

Europe’s storm surges are generally smaller than the US examples we have mentioned, but are significant in terms of flooding. We know of large surges in excess of 3 m in the Bristol Channel and North Sea, whilst even the 1 m surges on the south coast threaten substantial damages and highly populated areas when they coincide with large waves and tides. Europe has a long history of terrible human losses, including big events such as the 1607 floods and the 1703 storm (also see, e.g. Lamb, 1991 & Gönnert et al., 2001). Databases such as SURGEDAT and SurgeWatch aim to provide new scientific insights into coastal flooding from real observations. So, we recommended having a look at Hal’s frequent blogs (and publications listed below). At SurgeWatch we’ll always appreciate any information you can share with us about coastal flood events so we can continue to build our database.


Fritz, H. M., Blount, C., Sokoloski, R., Singleton, J., Fuggle, A., McAdoo, B.G., Moore, A., Grass, C. & Tate, B. (2008). Hurricane Katrina storm surge reconnaissance. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering. 134: pp. 644–656.

Gönnert, G., Dube, S. K., Murty, T. and Seifert, W. (2001). Global Storm Surges. Die Küste, 63, pp. 623

Lamb, H. (1991). Historic storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Needham, H. F. & Keim, B. D. (2012). A storm surge database for the US Gulf Coast. International Journal of Climatology, 32(14), pp. 2108-2123.

Needham, H. F., Keim, B. D. & Sathiaraj, D. (2015). A Review of Tropical Cyclone‐Generated Storm Surges: Global Data Sources, Observations and Impacts. Reviews of Geophysics. 53: 545-591.