"We were using 'depth,' thinking this was very clear. It turns out that nobody else does," Rhome said. "They're waiting for height, how high it is, and I would never have guessed in a million years that one word — one word — makes a difference in how people interpret something."
Forecasters also will try to stress that the storm surge isn't just from the ocean and can come from other bodies of water such as sounds, bays and lakes, sometimes well inland.
The hurricane center also plans to show people where to expect storm surge with high-resolution, color-coded maps, much like a radar map on the local news showing rain and severe weather. If forecasters can't post the maps on the hurricane center's website this storm season, which begins June 1, the plan is to have the maps ready in 2014.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration evaluation of the weather service's performance during Sandy also recommended increasing the number of storm surge forecasters at the hurricane center, and providing potential storm surge hazards at least 48 hours before the onset of tropical storm or gale-force winds.
Miami-Dade Emergency Management Director Curt Sommerhoff said his priority is getting the public to understand that the county's evacuation zones are based on storm surge, not hurricane winds.
New data from the hurricane center's storm surge models prompted the county to redraw its storm surge planning zones to include inland areas along canals and rivers that previously weren't identified as being at risk for storm surge.
"That's the new message, the surge danger well inland, well in from the coast," Sommerhoff said.
Separate storm surge warnings, similar to current tropical storm or hurricane warnings, will be rolled out in 2015.