Crowd­sourc­ing project to track tide in its sec­ond year

Daily Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Peter Coutu and Tamara Di­et­rich Staff writ­ers

Joe Bouchard first started adapt­ing to sea level rise in 2000, when he was the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of Naval Sta­tion Nor­folk. No one was fo­cus­ing on it, but he had no choice, he said — it was al­ready af­fect­ing the base’s infrastructure. Since then, he’s worked to ed­u­cate the com­mu­nity, try­ing to get res­i­dents more en­gaged.

Nearly two decades later, he says Hampton Roads’ at­ti­tude to­ward flood­ing and sea level rise is sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent. The per­fect ex­am­ple? The an­nual Catch the King event, he said.

Hun­dreds of res­i­dents from

all over the re­gion braved a cold, windy af­ter­noon Satur­day to map how far in­land one of the year’s high­est as­tro­nom­i­cal tides reached.

The king tide, the high­est of the year, of­fers a glimpse at what the re­gion will look like as sea level rise ac­cel­er­ates in com­ing decades — with more streets reg­u­larly be­com­ing in­un­dated and front yards turn­ing into ponds.

The is­sue is bad now, and it’s go­ing to get much worse, Bouchard said. Hampton Roads is fac­ing the “per­fect storm,” with sea lev­els ris­ing, the ground sink­ing and the Gulf Stream slow­ing.

Bouchard led a group of vol­un­teers to map ar­eas around Beach Gar­den Park in Vir­ginia Beach, a spot that was missed dur­ing last year’s event. Among the group was Joon Kim, who just re­lo­cated from Washington to coastal Vir­ginia. He ul­ti­mately picked a home in Chic’s Beach rather than Ghent be­cause he learned the old Nor­folk com­mu­nity floods reg­u­larly.

“That area is sink­ing pretty fast,” he said.

He said he’s par­tic­i­pat­ing in Catch the King be­cause he be­lieves hard data on flood­ing is will help lo­cal govern­ments act faster.

Bouchard didn’t ex­pect the area to be too ex­cit­ing, be­cause it al­most al­ways re­mains dry. But at high tide, around 1 p.m., wa­ter swamped Holly Road, mak­ing some driv­ers find an­other en­trance to the park. Us­ing the Sea Level Rise app on their phones, vol­un­teers recorded data with just a few clicks.

New data in pre­vi­ously un­mapped ar­eas can help im­prove flood­ing fore­cast­ing mod­els, like those de­signed by Derek Loftis and oth­ers at the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Science.

When the king tide peaked at An­der­son Park in down­town Newport News about 11:30 a.m., Loftis be­gan drop­ping vir­tual bread­crumbs along the James River shore­line. To do so, he had to step over seaweed and sponges, minia­ture liquor bot­tles, drink cans and plas­tic bot­tles, san­dals and candy wrap­pers that had washed up high on the beach by the pre­vi­ous night’s tide.

Like other tides, king tides come in pairs, with one a lit­tle higher. Satur­day morn­ing’s tide was sup­posed to be the higher of the two, but its coun­ter­part Fri­day night had an un­ex­pected reach as east­erly winds drove the wa­ter level up by about half a foot, de­fy­ing fore­casts. By morn­ing, the wind had shifted, blow­ing in from the west at a brisk 15 mph and push­ing wa­ter away from the mouth of the James.

“In fact,” Loftis said, “on Tues­day some of the ear­li­est fore­casts were showing wa­ter level here to be about 2 to 2½ feet higher than ul­ti­mately we saw to­day. But it ar­rived about eight hours ear­lier.”

Loftis is one of the three main or­ga­niz­ers of Catch the King in Hampton Roads, along with Skip Stiles of Wet­lands Watch and for­mer Vir­ginian-Pi­lot re­port David May­field.

About 350 peo­ple had reg­is­tered to track the king tide this year, com­pared with about 700 last year. But Loftis said that num­ber doesn’t ac­cu­rately ac­count for stu­dents who reg­is­tered as one class­room, or vol­un­teers who are map­ping but hadn’t reg­is­tered. Many stu­dents through­out the re­gion are par­tic­i­pat­ing in a year-round flood map­ping pro­gram, a new fea­ture of Catch the King. More than 140 class­rooms al­ready have reg­is­tered for the ini­tia­tive, which was started by WHRO.

This year’s turnout might not match last year’s, as Satur­day’s winds and cold driz­zle could have put off some vol­un­teers. But Mi­lyn King, a glass artist in Hampton, wasn’t dis­suaded by the weather or con­tent to map just one lo­ca­tion. With her hus­band, Stephen, an Air Force re­tiree, she es­ti­mates they hit be­tween 15 and 20 sites in her city and neigh­bor­ing Newport News, in­clud­ing An­der­son Park.

She shrugged off the brisk pace. “It’s a few hours of the day,” King said. “Think of it as sell­ing Girl Scout cook­ies: If you went door-to-door de­liv­er­ing Girl Scout cook­ies, you’d prob­a­bly be get­ting in and out of the car the same amount of time.

“It’s re­ally not that oner­ous — to get in and out of the car, walk a few paces, take a pho­to­graph, make some notes, drop some lo­ca­tor points, get back in the car and drive.”

She con­sid­ers it time well spent. “I just think it’s a very im­por­tant is­sue,” said King. “It’s an is­sue that doesn’t go away and it’s some­thing that I can do with­out a large in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion or a large in­vest­ment in equip­ment. I’m sim­ply giv­ing my time and some walk­ing and some at­ten­tion to de­tail. And I can pro­vide some data for what I con­sider to be a wor­thy cause.”

It also al­lows her to do some­thing con­crete as Hampton Roads faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture be­cause of sea level rise.

“The land is sink­ing, the wa­ter is ris­ing, the wa­ter tem­per­a­tures are chang­ing, wind pat­terns are chang­ing — ev­ery­thing is chang­ing,” King said. “So ev­ery­thing feels a lit­tle out of con­trol. But this one thing I can do: I can con­trol the events of this one day. I can col­lect data that may be help­ful.”


Derek Loftis from the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Science, a Catch the King or­ga­nizer, mea­sures the wa­ter lev­e­lat An­der­son Park in Newport News.

Tam­mie Or­gan­ski takes mea­sure­ments us­ing the Sea Rise app near An­der­son Park Or­gan­ski is the Ar­cGIS man­ager for the city of Newport News and helps VIMS with the sea level rise map­ping.

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