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What is storm surge and why is it so dangerous for Florida's Gulf Coast?

Simply put, storm surge is when the wind from a storm pushes the water onshore.

FLORIDA, USA — Storm surge has been a big topic of discussion over the past few days as Hurricane Ian barrels down on Florida.

What many people don't realize is that the Gulf Coast of Florida is the worst place in the U.S. when it comes to storm surges.

To understand the dangers of storm surges in this area, you have to look at a map of the Gulf of Mexico. The darker the blue on the map, the deeper the water. Notice, once you get closer to Florida, you get more of a light blue color. That indicates shallower water and that plays a really big role in the vulnerability of a coastline to storm surge.

RELATED: What is storm surge and why is it so dangerous?

Credit: KHOU

The Florida coast has a huge stretch of shallow water that ranges from 150 miles up near Sarasota to over 200 miles as you get down towards Naples.

The water depths show a huge contrast. You go from over 10,000 feet out in the middle of the Gulf, to water depths that are measured in hundreds of feet as you get closer to the shoreline. In fact, in the closest 50 miles to the shoreline, that water depth drops below 65 feet.

Think about a ball as you try and roll it up a ramp. The shallower that ramp, the further that ball is going to go. If you have a steep ramp, the ball wouldn't get very far. It's the same principle when you think of storm surges.

What is storm surge? 

Simply put, a storm surge it's when the wind from a storm pushes the water onshore.

The weaker the storm, the lower the storm surge, but as that storm gets stronger and the wind gets stronger, it's able to push more water onshore.

RELATED: Hurricane Ian update: Florida landfall expected late Wednesday

In some of the most extreme cases, we can see storm surge values pushing water 10 to even 15 feet above ground level. When that happens water can rise to the first and second levels of homes near the water.

The Tampa Bay area could see a storm surge of up to 9 feet. Farther south around the landfall area, we could see storm surge values over 12 feet.

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