Storm surges pose a severe threat to the northernmost cities of the Adriatic coast, with Venice being most prone to flooding. It has been noted that some flooding episodes cause significantly different effects along the eastern and western Adriatic coasts, with indications that the difference is related to cross-basin sea-level slope. The present study aims to determine specific atmospheric conditions under which the slope develops and to explore connection with increased sea level along the two coastlines. The analysis is based on sea-level time series recorded at Venice and Bakar over the 1984–2014 interval, from which 38 most intensive storm-surge episodes were selected, and their meteorological backgrounds (ERA-Interim) were studied. The obtained sea-level extremes were grouped into three categories according to their cross-basin sea-level slope: storm surges that slope strongly westward (W type), those that slope eastward (E type) and ordinary storm surges (O type). Results show that the slope is controlled by wind action only, specifically, by the wind component towards a particular coast and by the cross-basin shear of along-basin wind. Meteorological fields were used to force an oceanographic numerical model in order to confirm the empirically established connection between the atmospheric forcing and the slope. Finally, it has been found that the intensity of storm surges along a particular Adriatic coast is determined by an interplay of sea-level slopes in the along and cross-basin directions.