As Seas Rise Along the East Coast, Flooding Becoming Part of the Routine

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Learn

The effects of sea-level rise can be most pronounced during storms when winds and waves combine to lash the coast. During the blizzard that swept up the East Coast the day after Christmas, coastal areas had to deal with high winds and waters, as well as snow.

In Scituate, Massachusetts, waves topped the town’s seawall, sending eight feet of water into the Seventh Avenue neighborhood.

Fire officials believe floodwaters may have sparked a fire in an electrical unit that caused two homes to be destroyed. Residents were brought to safety by boat.

Living with high and low tides is a way of life on the coast. But in some places along the Eastern Seaboard, even when the weather is calm, the relentless patterns of the tides are becoming gradually more problematic as sea levels rise, associated with global warming.

For example, in Norfolk, Virginia’s Larchmont neighborhood, residents pay close attention to the lunar calendar when astronomical high tides occur. Several streets now routinely flood during these high-tide periods, and residents often have to move their cars to avoid driving through several feet of water.

The city of Norfolk – which has experienced more than 14 inches of sea level rise since 1930, according to naval station readings – is considering a project that would cost more than $1.25 million to raise the street and adjust storm drains.

Meanwhile, in New York state, a new report produced by a consortium of groups, including The Nature Conservancy’s eastern New York chapter, predicts that sea levels could rise more than four feet by 2080, with significant effects on New York City, Long Island Sound, and the Hudson River valley.

The Rising Waters Project, including government and private officials from utilities, health care, and environmental and emergency-preparedness agencies, reports that New York Harbor has risen 15 inches in 150 years, and 4-6 inches just since 1960. Future rises in sea level could affect planned rail lines as well as the availability of drinking-water supplies, as saltwater encroaches further inland.

Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy

Photo by: Erika Nortemann/The Nature Conservancy (In Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina, an extensive ditching system is part of the landscape and lifestyles for those who live in the Albemarle Sound area, which is located at sea level. As sea levels rise, water from the sound get pushed into the ditches and spread throughout the system, posing a potentially serious flooding threat to the entire area. The Conservancy’s Aaron McCall monitors the salinity levels at different points along the ditching network to see how much water is already filtering in from the sound.)

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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