Mean sea level rise, in inches, and days of nuisance flooding for three U.S. cities, 1950-2015. The cities are Atlantic City, New Jersey, Annapolis, Maryland, and Wilmington, North Carolina. Graphic: The New York Times

By Justin Gillis
3 September 2016

NORFOLK, Virginia (The New York Times) – Huge vertical rulers are sprouting beside low spots in the streets here, so people can judge if the tidal floods that increasingly inundate their roads are too deep to drive through.

Five hundred miles down the Atlantic Coast, the only road to Tybee Island, Georgia, is disappearing beneath the sea several times a year, cutting the town off from the mainland.

And another 500 miles on, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, increased tidal flooding is forcing the city to spend millions fixing battered roads and drains — and, at times, to send out giant vacuum trucks to suck saltwater off the streets.

For decades, as the global warming created by human emissions caused land ice to melt and ocean water to expand, scientists warned that the accelerating rise of the sea would eventually imperil the United States’ coastline.

Now, those warnings are no longer theoretical: The inundation of the coast has begun. The sea has crept up to the point that a high tide and a brisk wind are all it takes to send water pouring into streets and homes.

Federal scientists have documented a sharp jump in this nuisance flooding — often called “sunny-day flooding” — along both the East Coast and the Gulf Coast in recent years. The sea is now so near the brim in many places that they believe the problem is likely to worsen quickly. Shifts in the Pacific Ocean mean that the West Coast, partly spared over the past two decades, may be hit hard, too.

These tidal floods are often just a foot or two deep, but they can stop traffic, swamp basements, damage cars, kill lawns and forests, and poison wells with salt. Moreover, the high seas interfere with the drainage of storm water. […]

The region has one mayor, Philip K. Stoddard of South Miami, who is a scientist himself — he studies animal communication at Florida International University — and has been a close reader of scientific papers about climate change since the 1990s.

“I remember lying in bed at night thinking, ‘I hope this isn’t real,’” Dr. Stoddard, a Democrat, recalled. “I hope other data comes in that contradicts it. It took me several years to get my head around it and say, ‘Oh, God, it is real.’” […]

“We’re putting enough heat in the ocean to send water over us, no question,” Dr. Stoddard said. “Ultimately, we give up and we leave. That’s how the story ends.” [more]

Flooding of Coast, Caused by Global Warming, Has Already Begun



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