Florence floods dam­aged more homes be­cause of sea level rise, study shows

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Encore - BY ABBIE BEN­NETT aben­[email protected]­sob­server.com

If the ocean was at the same level it was in 1970, thou­sands of homes could have been spared storm surge flood­ing from Hur­ri­cane Florence, a re­cent study shows. Sci­en­tists at First Street Foun­da­tion (FSF) — a tech­nol­ogy non­profit ded­i­cated to in­creas­ing awareness of sea level rise — used data from the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice, lo­cal gov­ern­ments, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers and more to de­ter­mine sea lev­els and the num­ber of homes af­fected by Florence storm surge. Their work shows that sea level rise since 1970 led to greater dam­age — 11,000 more homes af­fected, they say. Storm surge, or the sea ris­ing be­cause of a weather event, af­fected more than 51,000 homes in the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia. Sci­en­tists with FSF con­sid­ered a home af­fected by Florence storm surge if wa­ter pushed over at least 25 per­cent of the prop­erty. The sci­en­tists mod­eled the same storm surge us­ing sea level ob­served in 1970 and dis­cov­ered that if the sea level had not gone up, 11,000 homes might have been spared, “sig­nal­ing that sea level rise is re­spon­si­ble for th­ese ad­di­tional im­pacts,” FSF said in its re­port. FSF sci­en­tists used data from NOAA and USGS river gauges to de­ter­mine storm surge from Florence. “Even though the im- pact of Hur­ri­cane Florence con­tin­ues to be felt, we al­ready know that sea level rise has made the dam­age sig­nif­i­cantly worse, as ob­served with other re­cent storms,” Steven McAlpine, FSF head of data sci­ence, said in the re­port. NOAA data on tides for the Caroli­nas show an aver­age rise in sea level of about 6 inches since 1970. Higher sea lev­els lead to worse storm surge, since a hur­ri­cane or other storm has more wa­ter avail­able to push up onto land, ac­cord­ing to FSF’s re­port. As the wa­ter floods the land, it also re­duces fric­tion that could slow the surge down. Higher sea lev­els, there­fore, mean more and faster flood­ing. There are also far more homes in the way of sea level rise and storm surge flood­ing to­day than there were in 1970. “Since the 1970s, much of the re­gion’s wet­lands, farms, and con­served ar­eas have been de­vel­oped for ur­ban use,” the FSF re­port said. “Many of the homes built in th­ese ar­eas were im­pacted by Hur­ri­cane Florence’s storm surge.” If we still had the same num­ber of homes as we did in 1970, the FSF re­port showed that only 23,000 homes — in­stead of 51,000 — would have been af­fected by storm surge flood­ing from Florence. Sea lev­els are ex­pected to con­tinue ris­ing, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers. The study found that the sea level ex­pected by 2050 — about 15 inches higher than to­day’s lev­els — could lead to dou­ble the im­pact from a storm like Florence. Where Florence af­fected about 51,000 homes to­day, the same storm in 2050 would have af­fected 102,000 homes, the study said. “With sea lev­els and coastal devel­op­ment on the rise, the im­pacts of hur­ri­cane storm surge will only get worse,” Matthew Eby, FSF ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in the re­port. “The time to re­think Amer­ica’s sea level rise and adap­ta­tion strat­egy is now.”


Sea level rise contributed to more homes be­ing af­fected by flood­ing dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Florence, a new study shows. Com­par­ing the sea lev­els in 1970 to lev­els of to­day, 11,000 more homes were af­fected be­cause of sea level rise.

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