Natural hazards are those events in the physical environment that present risks to human life or property. The DGS identifies and investigates natural hazards to help understand the earth systems that present the hazards and determine strategies to prepare for or mitigate the risks. We are active in advising emergency management agencies on natural hazards, and are included in the Delaware Emergency Operations Plan as an agency having a vital role in dealing with floods, northeaster/extratropical storms, droughts, earthquakes, sinkholes, and dam failures.
Because of the risk of coastal flooding in southern Delaware, the DGS conducts a program to document the effect of tides and winds on coastal erosion, especially for events with potentially large human impact. One effort as part of this program was a study of historical accounts of the effects of a Category 1 hurricane that swept northward from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, hitting Delaware on October 23, 1878. A storm surge in Delaware Bay raised water levels 6 feet in one hour in some areas, and the highest water levels in the Delaware River at Wilmington were as much as 12 feet above present sea level. More than 100 fatalities were attributed to the hurricane and property damage may have been as much as $150 million in today’s currency. This storm may well be the hurricane of record for the Delaware region and provides a worst-case scenario for a modern hurricane.