Sea level rising more rapidly than previously predicted

MIAMI – The federal government’s 8th State of High Tide Flooding report is its starkest assessment yet detailing the upward trends of rising seas spilling into coastal cities.

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.

Rising water filling our streets and pouring out of parking lots is becoming a familiar scene in South Florida and what scientists call “sunny day flooding.”

“Sunny day flooding, high tide flooding, nuisance flooding -- all are used to describe flooding typically with no storm insight with water in the streets, water spilling out of storm water systems, water causing inconveniences to our people, the public, damaging infrastructure due to the cumulative impacts,” said Dr. William Sweet, an oceanographer with NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

He said 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.

“When the gulf stream slows down, flooding along the eastern U.S., Florida in particular, increases,” Sweet said.

An estimated 40% of Florida’s population is at risk of storm surge flooding and it’s not just people who live right on the coast line, but also those living inland.

“As you go west from the ridge along the railroad and I-95, you lose elevation towards the Everglades, and so yes, the western parts of our counties, Broward and Miami Dade, they should experience some serious effects, as well,” said Dr. Colin Polsky, Director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University.

He said local efforts to stem the rising tide, like putting duck valves on storm drains, are helpful, but limited.

“Because it’s not really going to work beyond certain levels of sea rise,” Polsky said.

Until we can contain the effects of global warming, which cannot happen overnight, scientists say we’re facing both the ecological and economical costs of now rapid sea level rise.

According to scientists, standing water will go from a matter of inches for a few hours, as we currently experience, to several feet for much longer, maybe days.

This could ultimately change both the desire to live here and even government and private support for flood-related damage.

About the Authors:

Michael Lowry is Local 10's Hurricane Specialist and Storm Surge Expert.

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.