How a Stormwater System Functions During a Hurricane

stormwater system flooded in a parking lot

How a Stormwater System Functions During a Hurricane

If you live in Southwest Florida, you’re likely familiar with what goes into preparing your property for hurricane season. What you might not know, however, is how your stormwater system functions during and after a hurricane hits. Having a proper stormwater management system is vital for our communities, especially during hurricane and rainy season. These systems can become greatly impacted and overwhelmed when a hurricane hits, often resulting in some cleanup efforts and maintenance after the fact. Let’s take a look at the different types of stormwater management systems, how they function during a hurricane and things you can do to help reduce the damaging effects of stormwater runoff.

What is Stormwater Management?

Stormwater management refers to the effort to reduce runoff and the impact it has on surrounding infrastructures, lawns, streets and to improve overall water quality. Under normal weather circumstances, after a rain shower the water is absorbed into surrounding soil where it is naturally filtered. However, when heavy downpours occur it can be too much water at once for the ground to take in. This leads to what is known as stormwater runoff. This unfiltered rainwater can carry debris, pollutants, chemicals, bacteria, eroded sediments and more into our ponds, lakes, wetlands and surrounding areas. 

A proper management plan includes preparing for any runoff, maintaining stormwater systems, and regulating the collection, storage, and movement of stormwater. It’s important to have a team of certified stormwater inspectors when putting these plans in place and maintaining them to prevent any future damage. Especially after a severe storm or hurricane, when stormwater and sediment removal may be needed.

Stormwater Systems During a Hurricane

It’s no secret that a hurricane can cause devastating effects on our environment and infrastructures. During a hurricane or tropical storm, it’s common for an area to experience several inches of rainfall and catastrophic wind over a very short timeframe. The excess rain travels down roofs, through gutters, off the sides of buildings and down streets, carrying debris and sediments along the way until it reaches our drains. Since this water is completely unfiltered, it can also carry hazardous chemicals and substances that can pollute the water supply, including our lakes and ponds.

All of that excess debris and sediment from a hurricane can cause blockages in our stormwater systems, hindering them from operating properly. If the systems become too blocked, dangerous flooding can occur. Once the storm is over, some cleanup is typically needed to clear out the system and allow it to function properly in the future. Hurricanes are uncontrollable, but what we can control is taking the proper precautions and steps to make sure our stormwater systems are ready for the season.

Types of Stormwater Systems

In our developed communities, stormwater flows down our streets and into storm drains. The water then moves through the underground drainage system until it eventually reaches our stormwater systems or other natural bodies of water. There are many specific types of stormwater systems, but they can ultimately be categorized into two basic varieties.

Retention systems

Retention systems are designed to collect, or retain, stormwater and allow it to seep back into the soil. These systems can be created naturally or manmade. The ultimate goal of retention systems is to allow rainwater to absorb into the shallow groundwater aquifer rather than going straight back into our large bodies of water without being filtered. Typical retention systems include basins and swales.


Pickerelweed helps provide some benefits for lakes and ponds as well. As a native plant in Florida, pickerelweed has a sturdy build that helps provide stability around the banks of the bodies of water it surrounds. They’re easily recognizable because of the purple and blue flowers that they produce.

Detention systems

Detention systems (ponds) are the most widely known type of stormwater system. Ponds are crafted to help material settle and be absorbed before gradually releasing the stormwater into the environment. Oftentimes, aquatic plants are placed around ponds to help filter sediment debris out of any runoff.

How to Help Prevent Stormwater Runoff Pollution

Although it’s impossible to completely eradicate runoff pollution during a hurricane, there are some precautions and steps you can take to help your stormwater system function during a severe storm. Here are some of the best ways you can help:

  • Never dump anything into a storm drain. This may seem like common sense, but it can be easy for indirect dumping to occur. For example, when washing your car in your driveway, the soapy water may end up making its way into the storm drain on your street without you even noticing. A better option to avoid this would be to wash your car on your lawn where the water can be absorbed and filtered before making its way back into the water supply.
  • Keep drainage systems clear of trash and other debris. This goes for your entire property, since loose waste and debris can make their way into a storm drain if left unmanaged. After a hurricane, many communities require the help of a trusted professional to properly dispose of sediments and debris blocking the stormwater system.
  • Direct your gutters and downspouts away from pavement. Ideally, try and direct them toward some vegetation on your property. This can help to greatly reduce the amount of excess runoff pollution since the plants will act as an absorption barrier.
  • Don’t fill ponds, swales and retention systems. This is another tip that may seem obvious, but filling these systems with more water could lead to hazardous flooding and erosion if a heavy storm or hurricane passes through.
  • If you have a pond, plant trees around the perimeter. Trees can help to absorb more water and even lower the water table.

Preparation and Education is Key

At Mettauer Environmental, we believe that educating the community on the importance of stormwater systems will help us all to better prepare for the inevitable impact that will come from future storms and hurricanes in our area. We specialize in customized plans and solutions for both residential and commercial communities in Fort Myers, Naples, Port Charlotte and all of Southwest Florida. Our team of qualified experts can inspect your stormwater system and help devise a plan to prevent future damage. We take pride in providing the most eco friendly and cost efficient solutions possible. Contact us today to learn more or to get started on a stormwater management plan today. 

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