U.S. Coastal Flooding Breaks Records as Sea Level Rises, NOAA Report Shows
The frequency of high-tide flooding has doubled in 30 years. Some cities faced more than 20 days of it in the past year, and not just during hurricanes.
BY NICHOLAS KUSNETZ
The nation's coasts broke records for tidal flooding over the past year as storms combined with rising seas to inundate downtown areas of Miami, Boston and other major cities, according to a federal report released Wednesday.
While some of the flooding coincided with hurricanes and nor'easters, much of it was driven mainly by sea level rise fueled by climate change, scientists with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) write.
The oceans are rising about 3 millimeters a year on average, driven primarily by melting land ice and warming water, which expands. That rate is accelerating, and it has led to a steady increase in U.S. coastal flooding in recent decades, the report shows. Several cities—including Boston, Atlantic City, and Sabine Pass, Texas—saw more than 20 days of high-tide flooding between May 2017 and April 2018, the "meteorological year" covered by the report.
"Though year‐to‐year and regional variability exist, the underlying trend is quite clear," the report says. "Due to sea level rise, the national average frequency of high tide flooding is double what it was 30 years ago."
The report measured data from tidal gauges at 98 locations along the nation's coasts to see how often water levels rose above a point that typically inundates roads, infiltrates stormwater systems or otherwise disrupts daily life.
From Once a Decade to a Common Threat
Gregory Dusek, chief scientist at NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services and a co-author of the report, noted that rising seas have pushed the baseline high enough so that the type of common storm that hits a place like Charleston, South Carolina, several times a year can now induce flooding that once came only with hurricanes.
"The flooding that used to occur only during major storms, and maybe once in a decade," he said, "now occurs with regularity."
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