Early lessons learned from Hurricane Ian

This story is part of a weeklong series of reports about how to best prepare during hurricane season

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Hurricane Ian produced one of the highest storm surges we’ve witnessed this century.

On Monday night, we took a look at the dynamics of this force of nature.

The storm surge from Hurricane Ian quickly surrounded and filled homes, choking off any means of escape.

The wind-driven surge smashed through the front office of a repair shop on Sanibel Island but behind, just feet away, the glass garage door remained intact, and the car on the lift inside was seemingly untouched.

Just how high the storm surge got takes a little time to unpack, but at Fort Myers Beach, a storm surge sensor strapped to the pier told us exactly how high, 15 feet above the beach causing catastrophic storm surge not just here at the beach, but well inland.

The aftermath is hard for residents like Daniel Larson to fathom.

“It doesn’t really, I can’t, it doesn’t feel real to me. I mean, these places, that 7-Eleven, I used to stop there all the time and get a drink and it’s gone,” he said.

In Cape Coral, we met up with Gene Longenecker, an expert with the University of Central Florida Emergency Management Research Initiative.

He’s working to gain a greater understanding of how the storm surge impacted the area.

“Making distinctions about what type of water was moving through here -- was it saltwater or was it fresh water? Did it affect the buildings? Were the buildings scoured in any way? That sort of thing,” Longenecker said.

But what about Florida’s east coast?

Trying to imagine how Ian’s storm surge might impact Southeast Florida, we look to the past.

Nearly a century ago, the Great 1926 Miami Hurricane swept the Atlantic Ocean, over the entirety of Miami Beach, up to 10 feet deep in spots, through Biscayne Bay, and several blocks into downtown Miami.

Farther inland, the impacts of a storm like Ian would be different.

“You wouldn’t necessarily expect to see flooding along some of the parts of Dade county and so on, but in this area, it’s uniquely vulnerable to the approach angle of Ian and the intensity of the storm at the time,” Longenecker said.

That’s just from storm surge, but the torrential rain of Ian caused considerable inland flash flooding and river overflow all across the state and led to flooding that continued weeks after landfall.

“It’s tough to accept that this is really what it is, you know?” Larson said.

Ian’s flooding wasn’t just destructive, it was deadly.

Nearly 60 percent of deaths were caused by drowning both at the coast and inland.

On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at how various types of construction held up to the force of Ian.

This story is part of a weeklong series of reports about the impact of Hurricane Ian on our neighbors to the west in an effort to better understand and learn from the effects of this storm and what it could mean for South Florida and what we can do to prepare for storms like this in the future

About the Authors:

Michael Lowry is Local 10's Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert.

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.