Sea Level Rise in the United States — From Nuisance to Trouble

As fossil fuel companies fight to keep cities and nations captive to harmful emissions, the effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations are growing more and more pronounced.

A new study from NOAA finds that the incidence of flooding along U.S. coasts (primarily driven by fossil fuel burning) has increased considerably. This already-damaging situation, under present emissions scenarios, is expected to become much worse over the coming decades.

In the Southeast, high tide flooding days since 2000 have increased from an average of 1.5 per year to 3 per year. In the Northeast, similar flooding days have increased from about 3.5 per year to 6. Flooding is also becoming more common on the U.S. West Coast, though at a slower rate of growth. But hotspots for this region include San Francisco — which is seeing both land subsidence and rising oceans.

(New NOAA study reveals a staggering future for U.S. coastal flooding.)

For all coasts of the U.S. the future is looking increasingly grim. According to William Sweet, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

“The numbers are staggering. Today’s storm will be tomorrow’s high tide.”

By mid-Century the Western Gulf of Mexico is expected to face between 80 to 185 days of flooding per year, the coastal Northeast expects 45 to 130 days, and the Southeast and Eastern Gulf of Mexico is likely to see between 25 and 85 flooding days per year. By 2100, under expected fossil fuel burning scenarios, many locations will see at least minor flooding on most days.

In other words, already widespread flooding is about to get much worse. And the increasingly powerful storms we now see roaring out of an ocean riled by climate change will push their more intense storm surges up over already higher seas. Eventually, there will be no U.S. coastal zone that is untouched by this combined impact.


East Coast Still Experiencing Heavy Seas as Another Storm Looms

Large swells and high tides continued to batter the U.S. East Coast today as a storm that is predicted to become yet another nor’easter began to gather over the Central U.S.

A broad low pressure system that slammed the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. this weekend with flooding, massive waves, and wind gusts of up to 93 mph was still hurling rough seas and storm tides at the U.S. East Coast on Monday. Such widely-varied locations as coastal Florida and New Jersey were experiencing high water, beach erosion, raging surf and minor coastal flooding. Officials were warning people to stay off the beach and away from riled seas as crews rushed to clear debris.

The storm gained extreme intensity that was likely peaked by a number of climate change related factors including warmer than normal sea surface temperatures, a blocking high over Greenland that was likely impacted by a recent polar warming event, and higher sea levels resulting increasingly severe tidal flooding during the storm’s peak.

(A massive low pressure system that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and flooded the Northeast coastline this weekend still churned off the U.S. East Coast on Monday — lashing shores with rough surf and minor flooding. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Inland, nearly a quarter million people were still without power from Virginia through Maine — down from a high of around two million at the weekend storm’s peak. However, utilities are saying that it may take days to fully restore power to some locations. As repair crews were scrambling, another major storm was starting to gather over the Great Plains — with a high pressure system across Florida drawing very moist air from over a much warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico and into the developing storm’s circulation.

Over the next 24 hours, the new storm is projected to track eastward — crossing to the Ohio River Valley region by late Tuesday. On Wednesday, the low will transition energy into a developing storm off Virginia and the Outer Banks. This low is then expected to rapidly intensify as it moves northward — developing strong onshore winds with gusts of 45-65 mph crossing coastal Delaware, New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts by late Wednesday and into early Thursday.

(Models show another powerful low pressure system battering the Northeast Coast with 45-65 mph winds by early Thursday. Image source: Tropical Tidbits.)

The storm is also predicted to bring heavy coastal rains and up to 1-2 feet of snow across parts of the Northeast.

Presently, the storm is not expected to be as strong as the massive system that slammed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this weekend. However, gale force to storm force gusts are presently predicted, and forecast storm strength has been trending toward higher intensity in recent model runs.

In addition, climate change related factors like a warmer than normal Gulf of Mexico, much warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Gulf Stream, higher sea levels, and a large blocking high over Greenland are contributing to this most recent storm’s expected intensity. With hundreds of thousands still recovering from this weekend’s historic storm, and with so many factors now in play that could serve to further spike a new storm’s intensity above those presently expected, this is a developing situation that bears watching.


Climate Change — Seas Are Now So High it Only Takes a King Tide to Flood the US East Coast

“It gets higher every year. I imagine it will be worse next year.” Guido Pena, Miami marina employee commenting on water levels during king tides.


King tide. It’s a new term for an old phenomena. One that few people noticed before human-forced climate change began to push the world’s oceans higher and higher.

During spring and fall, the sun lines up with the moon and other astronomical bodies to produce a stronger gravitational pull on the Earth. This pull, in its turn, affects the tides — generating higher and lower tides over certain regions of the world.

(Rising ocean levels due to human-forced climate change is resulting in worsening instances of tidal flooding at times of high tide. In this video, a simple seasonal high tide is enough to flood major roads in Fort Lauderdale on October 17.)

King Tides — Turned into Flooding Events by Climate Change

During past years, these events were called astronomical high and low tides. They weren’t typically a news item because such tides often did not produce flooding. Past construction had placed buildings and key infrastructure above the typical annual range of even the astronomical high tides.

However, during the past century and, ever more-so during recent years, seas have been rising more and more rapidly due to human-caused climate change. A warming of the Earth due to fossil fuel burning that has melted glacial ice — flooding the oceans and causing its waters to thermally expand. As a result, parts of the U.S. East Coast now see ocean levels that are 1.5 feet or more higher than they were at the start of the 20th Century.

This rise, though modest compared to what will happen if global temperatures and greenhouse gas levels remain at currently elevated levels or continue to ramp higher, is now enough to turn astronomical high tides into a notable flooding event. An event that we have begun to call a king tide.


(In places like Miami along the US East Coast, sea levels are rising at a swifter and swifter rate due to human-caused climate change. Note the acceleration in the rate of water rise since 2008 indicated in the above graph. Image source: FSU.)

A Climate Change Enabled Tidal Flooding Event Impacting Most of the U.S. East Coast

And over the past few days, from Florida to Boston, the US East Coast has been feeling the effects of just such a climate change caused sea level rise. In Florida, a debate between climate change denier republican Marco Rubio and his democratic opponent Patrick Murphy was held at a site where the local street was flooding due to salt water incursion. Murphy, responding to his opponent’s doubts that seas were actually rising stated:

“Look out your window, right? There’s two or three inches of saltwater on the roads right now. They were not built underwater. Go down to the Florida Keys. The reefs are dying from acidification and bleaching.”

All across Florida, residents were posting pictures on twitter of the rising ocean waters and commenting on the intensification of coastal flooding due to sea level rise during recent years. “It gets higher every year,” said Guido Peña, a Miami Marina employee where the water was shin deep Monday morning, in a statement to the Miami Herald. “I imagine it will be worse next year.”

All up and down the coastline, communities reeling after a raking blow from Hurricane Matthew were again seeing waters rushing up and past the dune line or invading low-lying streets and neighborhoods. But this flooding was due to no hurricane, just the added rise of waters caused by a fossil-fueled warming of the Earth, a melting of her glaciers, and the thermal expansion of her seas.

(King tide flooding enhanced by climate change is now able to completely submerge Long Wharf in Boston.)

In Boston, residents took pictures of a completely submerged Long Wharf yesterday. Mentions of climate change came along with the observations of flooding waters. These included some ominous notes for a future in which scientists are projecting at least another 2 feet of sea level rise for the US East Coast by mid-century (and possibly quite a bit more).

High Vulnerability for U.S. East Coast

Overall, the US East Coast is particularly vulnerable to climate change induced sea level rise. Much of the southeast is subsiding due to crustal rebound following the last ice age which compounds any overall ocean rise. In addition, changes in North Atlantic Ocean currents and wind patterns due to climate change will tend to cause water previously pulled north by the Gulf Stream to rebound against the coastline. An effect that could also add another 1-3 feet of water rise to any baseline total provided by glacial melt and thermal expansion.

Larger news sources like The Weather Channel have provided little context with regards to the impact of climate change on current king tides — simply stating that climate change may affect king tides in the future. However, we should be very clear that without climate change we would not see the flooding from these tides that is now apparent today.


When the Ocean Rolls onto the Roads, King Tide Sends a Message

What’s a King Tide and Why is it Flooding Boston’s Waterfront?

Marco Rubio Denies Climate Change as King Tides Flood Miami Streets


Hat tip to Jack Ridley

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Jean Nagy

Hat tip to Ben Kennedy


Blizzard Fueled By Ocean Heat Cripples Eastern US, Floods Coast With Historic Storm Surge

We knew the weather this weekend would be wicked. A predicted extreme winter storm kicked into a much higher gear by an atmosphere warmed by human greenhouse gas emissions and by a record heat and moisture bleed coming off an anomalously hot Atlantic Ocean kind of wicked. A severe Blizzard featuring 12-40 inch snows, near record to record storm surges, and hurricane force wind gusts that has been showing up in model forecasts since earlier this week. And it appears that’s exactly what we’re getting.

Heavy Snows Cause Major Disruptions

Jonas Saturday Morning

(National Weather Service Radar showing heavy snowfall stretching from West Virginia to Rhode Island at 10:45 AM Saturday Morning.)

By early Saturday morning, the reports were coming in. More than 1,500 vehicles were wrecked or disabled along Virgina State highways Friday evening as the storm roared across the region. Sudden, heavy snowfall generated a similar snarl — setting off a 40 mile long traffic jam in Kentucky which stranded motorists for more than 12 hours. According to reports from The Weather Channel, Jonas had already dumped as much as 28 inches of snow by 8 AM this morning. With 5-20 more inches on the way for many regions, these totals are expected to continue to climb.

These crippling snowfall totals were hitting very close to home in Gaithersburg, MD — where I took this video of still heavy snows over an already amazing 21 inch accumulation (unofficial).

The video was taken during a lull in an area that’s been experiencing accumulations at faster than 1 inch per hour rates since late last night. Sporadic reports of thundersnow were also starting to trickle in — especially in areas closer to the Chesapeake Bay like Baltimore.

Severe Coastal Flooding Threat Grows

Along the coast, Jonas’s impacts began to look more like those of Superstorm Sandy than of a typical winter snowmaker. Winds on the Eastern Shore of Virginia hit a peak hurricane force gust of 85 miles per hour earlier this morning as Jonas gorged on record warm Atlantic Ocean waters and intensified. These strong winds combined with astronomical high tides and a climate change related pile up of Gulf Stream waters off the US East Coast to push tides to the second highest level on record for Delaware beaches.

According to the Weather Channel:

On Saturday morning, the water level at Lewes, Delaware, rose to 9.27 feet, a storm surge of more than 4 feet. This is the highest level on record at that gauge, beating 9.20 feet on March 6, 1962. Record flooding has also been observed in at least three New Jersey locations (Great Channel at Stone Harbor, Cape May Harbor, Delaware Bay at Cape May).

Cindy Nevitt in Cape May, New Jersey sent along this photo of ocean floodwaters and ice floes surging around her coastal home this morning as Jonas mercilessly drove its surge inland:

Cindy Nevitt Cape May New Jersey

(Severe coastal flooding surges into Cape May New Jersey as hurricane force gusts drive a storm surge into the Northeast Coast on Saturday morning. Image source: Cindy Nevitt.)

Reports are beginning to come in of ongoing emergency evacuations of coastal homes flooded by surging waters in this region. Given the 9 foot above normal tides combined with hurricane force wind gusts and 30 foot waves slamming into beaches, sand dunes and sea walls, it’s a situation that is, sadly, likely to worsen as the day progresses.

Many of the Worst Impacts Still to Come

To this point, it’s important to note that, with Jonas still centered off the Delmarva Peninsula, this major tidal flooding that regions are now currently experiencing is just the start. The head of water should continue to build on into late Saturday as it moves up the coastline and into New York City, Long Island, Coastal Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Furthermore, impacts to New Jersey and Delaware should remain dangerous or worsen over the coming hours as winds pile waves and waters on top of already record high tides.

Meanwhile, Jonas will continue to generate heavy snowfall over hundreds of miles on into Saturday evening. The situation, therefore, remains quite dangerous and all residents in the affected areas should keep tuned to local emergency officials for instruction. In other words, this climate change enhanced monster winter storm isn’t done yet. Not by a long shot.

UPDATE: 330 PM, 25-26 Inches, Everything is Getting Buried

The locals are calling this thing Snowzilla. And for the past 36 hours it feels like I’ve had the darn thing by the tail. It’s been a rough ride but now things are honestly starting to get weird. Howling winds and heavy snows at the rate of 1 inch or more per hour continue. And we’re just sitting here as all that moisture feeding in off the Atlantic hits that cold air and condenses out in the form of a merciless fall of snow.

In our most recent set of homebrew storm videos, filmed at 3:30, the world is taking on the features of an alien landscape. Everything familiar is being covered in massive piles that dwarf people, cars, trees and even make the buildings seem to blend into a blank background of mounded white. Snowfall accumulation, in our unofficial estimate, has now reached between 25 and 26 inches. But everywhere 3, 4, 5, 6 foot and larger piles and drifts can be found (if you want to view my complete video essay of this storm, now composing 10 live films of events as they unfolded in Gaithersbur, MD, it’s available here).

Offshore, Jonas is still strengthening, still hurling more snow our way. Now, forecasts are indicating the merciless accumulation won’t stop until around 8 PM this evening. National Weather Service radar analysis puts our region firmly under the pivot point of the storm and very heavy bands just keep spiraling in. Given the slow motion of the storm and the current visible conditions, I’m starting to think that the early forecasts were optimistic. We’re just getting socked here.


A Blizzard Roars out of Climate Change’s Heart

National Weather Service

Winter Storm Jonas Bringing Peak Impacts to Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Saturday

Winter Storm Jonas Live Updates

Jonas Generates 40 Mile Long Traffic Snarl in Kentucky

Cindy Nevitt

Hat Tip to DT Lange

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Greg

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