Flooding of Atlantic coastal cities about to get a lot worse


If you live near the Atlantic Ocean — and millions of Americans do, along the most densely populated stretch of the nation — then you know the coastal flooding is always in the background. When a big storm like a Nor’easter barrels its way up the Eastern Seaboard, cities from Miami Beach all the way up to Maine can expect some beach erosion and possibly a couple feet of water piling up on waterfront thoroughfares. When there’s a major tropical-fueled storm, such as 2012’s devastating Superstorm Sandy, then the damage can be far worse — entire beachfront homes can be demolished as the dunes knocked over by a raging sea.

But in the last few years, thanks to rising sea levels, which in turn have been largely caused by global warming, a number of Atlantic Ocean communities are finding flooding has become much more frequent, a routine occurrence. In fact, some towns say it now doesn’t take much more than a full moon and an unusually high tide for major roadways and homes near the waterfront to flood. Over the next generation, researchers have found, these types of flooding events are likely to occur as much as several times a week in some locales:

The lawns of homes purchased this year in vast swaths of coastal America could regularly be underwater before the mortgage has even been paid off, with new research showing high tide flooding could become nearly incessant in places within 30 years.

Such floods could occur several times a week on average by 2045 along the mid-Atlantic coastline, where seas have been rising faster than nearly anywhere else, and where lands are sagging under the weight of geological changes.

Washington and Annapolis, Md. could see more than 120 high tide floods every year by 2045, or one flood every three days, according to the study, published last week in the journal PLOS ONE. That’s up from once-a-month flooding in mid-Atlantic regions now, which blocks roads and damages homes.

“The flooding would generally cluster around the new and full moons,” said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, a Union of Concerned Scientists analysts who helped produce the new study. “Many tide cycles in a row would bring flooding, this would peter out, and would then be followed by a string of tides without flooding.”

The report from the award-winning Climate Central website look at the impact on one Atlantic community in the state of Delaware:

“This is not something that we can address alone,” said Theodore Becker, mayor of Lewes, Del., a town of a few thousand residents that swells with summertime visitors.

The new analysis showed high tides could bring floods to Lewes every second day on average by 2045 — a risk that local and state leaders are toiling to reduce.

“We engage in at least two programs to educate people about what they can do to prepare themselves,” Becker said. “We have a very engaged community. They get it.”

To reduce future risks and impacts from current flooding, Lewes lawmakers recently adopted new rules for building and renovating homes in flood-prone regions. The city is also seeking funding from the state to elevate roads that frequently flood. It protects and enhances sand dunes, which can buffer floods.

Increasingly, we’ve seen active officials on the local level taking the lead in aggressive action to fight the effects of global warming. That’s smart — to both boost community engagement, and because leaders on the ground often know what’s best for their own hometowns. But let’s not forget that the federal government has been abdicating its responsibility in this area. When it comes to climate change, the other half of the job is tackling pollution from fossil fuels so that we can slow the rise of sea levels in the first place — and that’s a task that only Washington and the world’s other industrial powers can handle.

Read more about the rise in Atlantic Ocean coastal flooding from Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/coastal-cities-flood-three-times-a-week-2045-21153

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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