‘Sunny day’ flooding poses grave risk to coastal communities

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Editorials

September 11, 2018 - 9:10 AM

Hurricane Florence is expected to hit the Atlantic seaboard later this week. Even if it doesn’t make landfall, the anticipated rainfall will exacerbate an already flooded coastline.
From Boston to Miami and around into the Gulf, communities are experiencing chronic “nuisance floods” due to rising sea levels, caused in part by global warming. (You melt an ice field or two and there’s bound to be a repercussion.) In the last five years alone the waters have risen five inches along the southeastern portion of the Atlantic Coast. Rain or shine, community streets are awash in water.
This “sunny day” flooding is catching scientists off-guard. According to long-range predictions the high waters were supposed to be decades away, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Globally, oceans are rising about one-eighth of an inch per year, a good deal less than the 1-inch per year experienced in pockets from Charleston to Miami, as well as other susceptible areas including southeast Asia.
In 2016, tidal waters flooded the streets of Charleston, S.C., a total of 50 days. In just 80 years, the city can expect to be under water every other day, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
With the steady melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, scientists predict overall world waters will rise anywhere from 2 to 5 feet by 2100, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

PROBLEMS from chronic flooding include contaminated fresh-water sources such as lakes and streams; destabilized transportation systems such as roads, subways, and trains; jeopardized internet infrastructure where fiber optic cables are buried, and destabilized storm and sewage systems.
Because half of the country’s population lives in coastal areas, these trends will impact millions of people.
Of course it’s also because so many people live along our shores that these problems have an outsized impact. Hurricane Harvey cost the Houston area $125 billion in flood losses. Once swamp land, Houston is now home to 2.3 million people spread across 600 square miles of primarily asphalt and concrete. The longer Houston and other cities refuse to acknowledge the value in water-absorbing green space and the danger of building on water’s edge, the worse the situation will grow.

WE’RE HOPING Hurricane Florence turns to sea and spares the East Coast. But even if it does, we’re not out of the woods.
— Susan Lynn

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