Most Bleak Federal Report Yet on High-Tide/Sunny-Day Tide Floods

Yves here. I must confess to not having heard of the climate change metric of tracking tide floods on otherwise good weather days. But as you can see, the results are flashing a big warning.

By Michael Lowry. Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert at WPLG, the ABC affiliate in Miami, Florida. He is a former emergency management official with FEMA and senior scientist at the National Hurricane Center. Originally published at Yale Climate Connections

The federal government’s eighth State of High Tide Flooding report is its starkest assessment yet detailing the upward trends of rising seas spilling into coastal cities.

Scientists at NOAA’s National Ocean Service – the agency’s water counterpart to the National Weather Service – earlier this month reported threefold and fivefold increases since 2000 in sunny-day, high-tide flooding for the southeastern U.S. and western Gulf Coast, respectively. Despite an ongoing La Niña in the eastern Pacific, which can temporarily dampen sea levels along the U.S. coast, the frequency of relentless saltwater flooding – unrelated to extreme weather – has continued to accelerate across the U.S. in 2022.

The report underscores an alarming growth of chronic sunny-day floods at nearly 100 tidal locations monitored by NOAA along the U.S. coastline, taxing the ability of modern infrastructure to adapt by gradualism to contain increasingly disruptive and destructive high tides. The latest outlook predicts sunny-day flooding – occurring now about once every other month at any given spot, averaged nationwide – to become as commonplace as every other day by the end of traditional 30-year mortgages originating today.

Sea-Level Rise Driven by Warming Climate

Several factors affect differences in local sea-level rise, including sinking land and a slowing of the Gulf Stream current along the eastern seaboard, especially along the southern extension of the Gulf Stream known as the Florida Current.

But even in places like South Florida, prone to both subsidence and fluctuations in the nearby Florida Current, government scientists estimate the vast majority – roughly 8 cm of the 11 cm rise over the past 20 years – are driven by warmer oceans and melting land ice from global climate change. The octopus in the parking garage may be the modern-day canary in the coal mine for rising seas, with marine life swept in with advancing tides and bubbling up through porous bedrock beneath.

The latest report complements a sweeping NOAA Task Force report released last February updating sea-level projections for the U.S. coastline from climate change scenarios outlined in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report released last summer. These new updates, the first since 2017, increase scientific confidence into the next century of deleterious consequences to U.S. coastal communities and ecosystems unless comprehensive mitigation measures are taken.

Rising Seas and Coastal Populations … and Future Storm Surges

The U.S. population seeking a permanent place along the coasts is booming. Nearly 40 % of the nation’s 330-plus million live in a coastal shoreline county on land comprising less than 10% of the total U.S. land area, excluding Alaska. In many hurricane- and storm surge-prone areas along the gently sloping Gulf Coast, population and attendant wealth have skyrocketed. In Collier County on Florida’s southwest coast, home to Naples and one of the country’s most prosperous communities, population has soared by nearly 1000% over the past 50 years. An estimated 40% of Florida’s population is at risk of storm surge flooding, with the highest concentration of per capita losses from storm surge along Florida’s southwestern shoreline.

Similar to lowering the rim of a basketball goal (or alternatively raising the floor under the basket), rising seas will lower the bar for future storm surge “dunks,” worsening extreme flooding, even if the characteristics of storms don’t change. Recent studies conclude damage from storm surges and sea-level rise under a moderate global warming scenario could top $1 trillion by the end of the century in the U.S. – most egregiously on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Under an extreme global warming scenario, these damages could top $14 trillion worldwide without appropriate adaptation measures to reduce risk.

Added to the tidal wave of coastal concerns are compounding issues of climate change, which may hasten the destructive feedback loop.

As government scientists noted in their annual high-tide flood report, cooler than average waters around the equator in the eastern Pacific – a phenomenon coined La Niña – have reduced otherwise higher seas, particularly on the U.S. west coast. This very persistent La Niña, in its third successive year and only the third triple-dip in the 73-year record, has been a deceptive windfall for chronic coastal flooding in recent years. Because of the warming climate, however, El Niño events – the warming of the eastern Pacific which can exacerbate sea levels along both the east and west coasts – and not La Niña events are expected to eventually become more common later this century, though this issue remains an active area of research.

Meanwhile, scientists are finding higher rates of rainfall in tropical cyclones, especially near their centers where winds are strongest. In a paper published earlier this year in the journal Nature, Princeton University and MIT scientists examined the combined impacts of worsening storm surges from rising seas and increasing rainfall in tropical cyclones. The authors found an increase in the incidence of extreme flood events from tropical cyclones – by as much as 36-fold in the southern U.S. and 195-fold in the northeastern U.S. by the end of the century.

Disadvantaged Populations – as So Often – Hardest Hit

Economically disadvantaged populations and communities of color are expected to be disproportionately at risk of coastal flooding from sea-level rise in the years ahead. A 2021 study in the Journal of Climate Change and Health found that in the next three decades across North and South Carolina, sea-level rise may increase low-lying flooding by as much as 700 percent in lower- income Black communities compared to higher-income white communities. These findings are consistent with extensive peer-reviewed research showing a higher risk from natural disasters to low-income households, under-resourced communities, and communities of color.

In recent years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has explicitly prioritized the needs of historically underserved communities. The agency in early August announced an infusion of $3 billion into federal flood mitigation and resilient infrastructure programs targeting communities most at risk.

Sea-level rise remains one of the most conspicuous and consequential stains of global warming. Its effects are wide-reaching and pervasive, and overlooking the rising tide amounts to refuting the calling card of a changing climate. Some changes are less perceptible, but in cities from Galveston to New Orleans, Miami to Charleston, Norfolk to Boston, and in hamlets between, the fingerprints of accelerating seas are unmistakable. And the costs – both ecologically and economically – have never been higher … and are expected only to increase

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  1. Bsn

    Looks like it’s the bottom of the ninth, nobody out, game is tied, bases are loaded and Mother Earth is up to bat. The fans are silent as they bring in the closer …. Blackrock, Oil, WEF, and Google. I don’t think we’ll have extra innings.

  2. ambrit

    The medium term effects of sea level rise, irrespective of cause, will be unavoidable. Nothing is going to put this Djinn back in the bottle. People are just going to have to move to higher ground. That is where the “fun” will be, because those living at the higher elevations will have to adapt to much higher populations, or move inland further themselves.
    Expect to see a situation like the ancients experienced when tribes migrating westward out of Central Asia pushed intervening tribes in a domino effect into the West. The Goths, Vandals, Huns, etc. striking fear into the hearts of the more settled peoples of Europe were aspects of this.
    Modern day “wild tribes” anyone?

    1. Lexx

      Will we know them by their multiple tattoos and piercings? Here at a mile high, the migration has already begun.

      1. ambrit

        Don’t forget their uncouth accents and weird social customs.
        After Katrina did it’s ‘thing’ to the Gulf Coast, Phyl and I caught a strong dose of the Aqueous Aversions. I remembered seeing NOAA maps where the full global melt out was figured to add 200 feet plus or minus to the sea level. This half-horse town we settled in is just above that “magic elevation.”

  3. Telee

    The Inflation Reduction Act has come just in the nick of time. This revolutionary bill has some particularly brilliant features. Like giving the oil companies 20 million acres a year of federal coastal waterways and land to drill for the next ten years. Also fast tracking new pipelines regardless of environmental impact while giving the oil companies tens of billions a year to develop carbon capture is simply brilliant. The carbon capture will be so successful that there will be no need to reduce fossil fuel consumption. However, we will have to be careful not to remove so much CO2 that we starve the earth’s flora. Moreover, no one can argue that giving private equity a 35 billion dollar tax break isn’t a good thing. What a great bill! No need to worry!

  4. Anthony G Stegman

    Too many worriers. The kids will be alright. Governments will be forced to evacuate people from low lying areas and provide them with shelter. For some ramshackle communities along the Gulf coast it can be a blessing in disguise. There should be no permanent dwellings there to begin with. The Manchins, Pelosis, and their ilk may not wish to spend the money relocating people, but they will have little choice due to the extreme nature of the emergency. Without government action the pitchforks Obama worried about will come out. And maybe a few guillotines.

    1. ambrit

      If our experiences after Hurricane Katrina wiped us out on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are any guide, the Powers will do practically f— all about assisting the migrations away from the low lying coasts. The main function of the National Guard troops who took up residence in our pretty much destroyed coastal town was to ‘maintain order’ and regulate the distribution of such emergency supplies as made their way to our “H—s Half Acre.”
      The commercial insurance companies denied just about everything that they could in the way of claims. We were lucky that the Governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, was a “good buddy” of President Bush. Mississippi somehow wangled an insurance “top up” to the assessed values of the last previous tax assessment for those who lost all. Only because of that are we living in a paid off house inland. Otherwise we would be paying a mortgage until the Second Trump of Doom.
      Those pitchforks will eventually come a calling to the gated enclaves. I no longer pretend to have a clue as to when that will happen. The Propaganda Machine in America is too bloody good.
      Stay safe.

  5. drumlin woodchuckles

    From the chart it looks like the most predicted blue-sky tidal floods will hit cities in the fantasy-based global warming denialist states. A less number , I suppose, will hit seaside towns/cities in the reality-based global warming acceptance states.

    I see the possibility of a Grand Bargain. It begins by the House-Senate delegations from the reality-based global warming acceptance states obstructing and preventing any Federal aid to any tidal-flood area in any state. When the fantasy-based denial states see that they are default-missing-out on more Federal aid, the Reps and Sens from the reality based acceptance states can suggest the Grand Bargain.

    And here it is. If all the Reps and Sens from the fantasy-based denial states agree to support a full all-out program of global de-warming and carbon rebalancing, the Reps and Sens from the reality-based acceptance states will support Federal aid to tidal flood zones, including in the fantasy-based denial states.

    1. Big River Bandido

      This assumes a functional politics, when what we see is a collapse in confidence in the very system needed to affect change.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Well . . . you are correct in that we can’t assume a functional politics anymore. The Republicans, conservatives, and their rich funders and think tankers have spent fifty years working to make America ungovernable and have nearly completed the mission.

        People who want a functional politics will have to find eachother and in those regionalocal and microlocal jurisdictions where they discover themselves to be a commanding majority, they can try to take over governance in those jurisdictions, rigidly exclude by force of numbers the Republicanservative arsonists from governance in those jurisdictions, and restore functional politics at those levels to make those levels governable within their own sphere of power.

        Perhaps re-governability command groups who have taken and well-managed various localities can spot eachother and work out how to spread re-governability from their re-governed areas to wider areas. Maybe even the whole country step by step.

        I watch some Beau of the Fifth Column videos at non-used computers each worknight after work. He offers some possible thoughts, approaches and outlooks on ways to do this.

        Some time ago he gave a little video talk called ” lets talk about Democratic Party strategy”. It was actually about the built-to-fail strategery and tacktickery the Democratic Party actually pursues, and then about what genuine strategy and tactics the Democratic Party “should” pursue if it wants to win the kind of power which would allow it to force into existence the kinds of policies he wish-thinks the Democratic Party might someday wish to force into existence. I liked this video because it layed out what ANY sincere political party or movement or party-movement COULD do in terms of strategy and tactics in order to win the power to achieve its agenda. It could even be useful to any sincere political party-movement which doesn’t even exist yet, but which would like to. Granted, Beau talking to the Democrats is like W. Edwards Deming talking to American Big Bussiness. But the Deming story had a happy ending. Deming found Japanese Big Business eager to hear and to learn and apply the knowledge. And by analogy, just because the Democrats won’t listen to Beau does not mean that Beau can’t find someone else to listen. Someone else may indeed listen and learn.

        Here is the link.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Suppose pro-governance re-governators can take command of a few mid-size cities. What if they and their supporters could work to get themselves and the citizens of the city and of the surrounding semi-urban ring and the shallow countryside just beyond that . . . to think of themselves as modern-day analogs of the Classical Greek City States?

          What if Cincinnati renamed itself, even if only informally, as Cincinnathens? ” Hey, we’re all Cincinnathenians now! And we will semi-function as much as semi possible as a Greek City State. Get as much food as possible from as close to Cincinnathens as possible. Sell as much of what they produce and do within Cincinnathens as possible.

          What if a thousand towns and cities could do this? They could be a Thousand Points of Governability. They could even write that as a slogan and a vision. ” A Thousand Points of Governability.” Or maybe ” a Thousand Points of Good Government.” And they could make contact with eachother and help eachother force-multiply eachothers’ functional governability against a matrix of “Ungovernable Somalimerica in the howling social-wilderness zones between the Governably Governed City States.

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