Rising sea levels play a role in South Florida flooding after Tropical Storm Eta

Many South Florida homeowners have been shocked by the amount of flooding left behind by Tropical Storm Eta.

MIAMI – Many South Florida homeowners have been shocked by the amount of flooding left behind by Tropical Storm Eta.

Experts are saying they are concerned about what a stronger system could do to the region.

Local 10 Hurricane Specialist Bryan Norcross has explained that this was something he anticipated.

“We’ve had flooding like this from tropical storms before, this was not really an exceptional flood for South Florida, we just haven’t had one in a while,” Norcross said.

The rainy tropical system came on the heels of a wet month of October, but another compounding factor was also at play; sea level rise.

“I’ve been dealing with hurricanes since the 1980s and that’s evolved into discussing how climate and hurricanes fit together,” Norcross said. “The fact that sea level is rising and rising a little more just a half an inch, an inch at a time, that makes our drainage system work more poorly.”

That makes it more difficult for the water to head out to sea via the region’s network of canals.

For inland communities like Doral in Miami-Dade County or Lauderhill in Broward, flood waters could take a while to fully recede.

“Because basically, we have a gravity system and it relies on the ocean water being lower than the water on the land,” Norcross said.

For sea level rise specialists and researchers, the widespread flooding is a reminder about the urgency of the region’s on-going conversations related to resiliency and adaption.

“Miami has been playing Hurricane roulette for a long time,” said Caroline Lewis, Founder of The CLEO Institute. "It is going to be devastating if we get a direct hit from a cat 1, cat 2, cat 5, because our vulnerability is so real.

“The main takeaway for our elected officials is to heed the climate science.”

Added Norcross: “We have a lot of issues to deal with. We have to solve for the climate crisis, and we have to figure out how to live with a rising sea.”

Related Links:

Miami lives with impacts of climate change - Experts: property and people at stake- https://www.local10.com/news/2014/02/10/miami-lives-with-impacts-of-climate-change-2/

Could finding sea level rise solutions create jobs? Experts suggest establishing partnerships between governments and venture capitalists to fund plans- https://www.local10.com/news/2014/02/10/could-finding-sea-level-rise-solutions-create-jobs/

Climate change a factor in accelerated beach erosion problem along A1A in Fort Lauderdale- https://www.local10.com/news/2012/11/27/climate-change-a-factor-in-growing-erosion-problem-along-a1a/

Army Corps of Engineers proposes flood wall to fortify Miami-Dade coastline- https://www.local10.com/news/local/2020/09/15/army-corps-of-engineers-studies-how-to-fortify-miami-dades-coastline/?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar

Stranded cars, sidewalk hot plates, and plenty of water in Lauderhill- https://www.local10.com/weather/2020/11/09/stranded-cars-sidewalk-hot-plates-and-plenty-of-water-in-lauderhill/

2016 Miami-Dade County Report on Flooding and Saltwater Intrusion- https://www.miamidade.gov/green/library/sea-level-rise-flooding-saltwater-intrusion.pdf

FAU: Sea Level Rise in South Florida – Impacts to Drinking Water and Human Health- http://www.ces.fau.edu/arctic-florida/pdfs/meagan-weisner.pdf

More information from the experts:

Caroline Lewis, The CLEO Institute Founder

“In 2019 Caroline was recognized by TIME magazine as one of the 31 most influential people in the South. She was also 1 of 12 individuals nationally recognized as a White House Climate Resilience Champion of Change in 2013”- https://cleoinstitute.org/about-us/

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, Director, FIU Sea Level Solutions Center

“Jayantha Obeysekera is the Director and Research Professor in the Sea Level Solutions Center. Obeysekera previously served as the chief modeler at the South Florida Water Management District, where he had a leading role in the modeling of the Everglades and Kissimmee River restoration projects.”- https://case.fiu.edu/about/directory/profiles/obeysekera-jayantha.html

FIU’s Sea Level Rise Solutions Center is the “interdisciplinary hub for international research, collaboration, education, communication and outreach.”- https://environment.fiu.edu/coastlines-and-oceans/sea-level-solutions-center/

Local 10′s Bryan Norcross about unique nature of South Florida’s topography and the intersection of flooding and rising seas:

“People in South Florida need to understand that we live in the most vulnerable place for sea level rise because we can’t put up a wall like they do in New Orleans to keep the water out, our ground is porous, so even if we were erect some kind of a flood wall the water would go under it and seep up through the ground on the other side and we would still get a flood,” explained Norcross, “so we have to figure out ways to deal with this that is unlike anywhere else because most places have solid ground and they don’t have this seepage problem of the water coming in under any kind of barrier you can erect. Also, our drinking water is inland, and we have to keep the salt water out from that. So, we have a lot of issues to deal with, we have to solve the climate crisis and we have to figure out how to live with a rising sea.”

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."