Study Says East and Gulf Coasts Might See Tripling of Flood Events by 2030

This post was written by Alexandra Tempus, independent journalist and TCE researcher, and originally appeared at VICE News on October 9.

“King Tide” hit the Florida coast on Thursday [October 9], providing an opportunity to see how climate change might impact the region over the coming few decades. The high water levels have annually inundated roadways along the Florida coast and prompted Miami Beach to improve its storm water management system.

Communities all along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico might want to give Florida’s super high tide a closer look.

Over the next 30 years, King Tide-like conditions might become the “new normal” as “more tidal flooding is virtually guaranteed,” according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

UCS analyzed flooding in 52 coastal communities, from Maine to Texas, and found that many of these areas now experience dozens of tidal floods per year, up to four times the number of tidal flooding days as occurred in 1970.

By 2030, two-thirds of these communities are likely to see at least triple the number of high tide floods annually, says UCS.

The organization projects that by 2045 many coastal communities are expected to experience roughly one foot of sea level rise. This means one-third of those 52 communities are likely to see flooding 180 times per year and some, like Atlantic City and Cape May, New Jersey, might expect 240 tidal floods per year.

Across the board, UCS says, sea level rise is “no longer an intangible global trend.”

Tidal floods are caused by naturally occurring high tides. But, due to climate change, those high tides are now happening on top of higher sea levels.

Though the increase in tidal flooding by 2030 feels new and urgent, says Robert Nicholls, a professor of coastal engineering at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, these findings are expected.

“As sea levels rise, so the frequency of flooding will increase, unless we take adaptive measures,” he told VICE News. “This report comes as no surprise and shows that all coastal residents need to face up to the implications of sea-level rise.”

One area familiar with the impacts of coastal flooding is Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York, an area that sustained severe damage during Hurricane Sandy two years ago. Jamaica Bay is now singled out in the UCS report, along with Miami, Florida, southern New Jersey and the Washington, DC area, among others, as a “front line” community that is especially vulnerable to more frequent tidal flooding.

Such impacts, Juan Camilo Osorio, Director of Research for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance told VICE News, “won’t impact everybody in the same way.”

In New York City, he said, coastal areas, like Jamaica Bay, tend to have limited resources, poorer populations, and more residents without insurance, as well as already existing environmental burdens, like industrial pollution.

“It’s really important to talk about how climate change is really exacerbating these existing conditions,” Osorio told VICE News.

The UCS report recommends upgrading infrastructure and stemming new development in flood prone areas and encourages caution when communities consider projects, like sea walls, that might protect coastal populations but come at the expense of seaside habitats.

In both Miami and New York City the dueling interests of property development and addressing vulnerabilities to climate change is brought into sharp focus.

Miami is the world’s most vulnerable city based on projected property loss due to coastal flooding and New York City, despite a comprehensive coastal resiliency plan, continues development within flood prone areas, with Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsing multiple waterfront developments despite objections from environmentalists.

“There needs to be a more inclusive decision-making process,” Osorio said.

Such planning may soon need to involve more neighborhoods than just those on what is now considered the front line.

“In the near future,” the UCS report says, “higher seas will mean that high tides can reach farther inland, creating flood conditions that last longer and disrupt daily life for growing numbers of people.”