(CNN)Almost half of all deaths from tropical cyclones come from storm surge.
While many people focus on the wind speed of storms, the danger often comes from the water flowing in from the ocean. Privately, you may be wondering (and you wouldn’t be alone): “What exactly is storm surge?””A storm surge is a rise in water level caused by a strong storm’s wind pushing water on-shore,” said CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller. “The wind literally piles up the ocean water and pushes it on the land.” All that water has nowhere to goRead MoreStorm surge also can exacerbate flooding. As the water piles up along the coast, rivers and streams that typically drain into the ocean can become clogged farther upstream, forcing water levels to rise.That water doesn’t just leave. Depending on how much water was pushed ashore and the area’s watershed, it may hang around, causing further damage to communities.Due to climate change, storm surge has become an even greater threat in recent years. “Sea levels have risen in most places by about 1 foot over the past century. The higher baseline ocean level allows storm surges to reach even higher, increasing their destructive capabilities,” Miller said. The National Weather Service in a 2014 report said that most surge deaths occurred in Hurricane Katrina and several other big, powerful storms. In a majority of storms, excessive rainfall that leads to drownings is the leading cause of death.