Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 hurricane, has made landfall in Florida’s Gulf Coast. Storm surge, the sea water pushed forward by hurricane winds, can be deadly.
Hurricane Harvey is “basically bulldozing that water and bringing it towards the coastline,” according to meteorologist Gerry Daz of the Chronicle newsroom. Flooding along the coast is a serious threat due to the sea level rise caused by water approaching the beach.
On Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center issued a warning that along certain portions of Florida’s west coast, water pouring inland from the shoreline could reach historic levels of 12 to 18 feet above ground due to the storm surge combined with the tide.
According to Will Downs, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, “they have gone a very long time without incurring severe hurricane consequences.”
The area’s population has tripled to 3 million in the century since the last significant hurricane hit, and climate change has amplified the impact of storms on coastal flooding. On the other side of the country, sea level rise from global warming affects California’s coast, where over 68% of the state’s population lives.
While California has only ever been hit by one hurricane, other storms that cause flooding and coastal run-up are expected to worsen in a warming world.
“We just built up in these locations that are, by nature, quite vulnerable,” said Patrick Barnard, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who focuses on the effects of climate change on coastlines.
A report released earlier this year under the leadership of several federal agencies predicted that the pace of change in the next years might be rapid. An estimated 10–12 inches of relative sea level rise along U.S. coastlines within the next 30 years. From 1920 to 2020, it increased by about this much.
The melting of glaciers and ice sheets, as well as the warming of saltwater, are contributing factors in this shift since they increase the amount of ocean water and hence raise sea levels.
Ben Hamlington, head of the NASA Sea Level Change Team and a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, called these predictions “sobering.”
Hamlington remarked, “If they do come to pass, the impacts will be significant.”
Because numerous settlements have sprung up along the seaside, which is itself a dynamic environment, this is especially true. Since tides and storm surges are built on top of rising sea levels, the stakes keep getting higher.
Hamlington remarked that “impacts become that much greater — they get compounded” when natural disasters occurred, such as hurricanes or El Nios.
New studies indicate that as the earth continues to warm, extreme weather events like air river storms will become more regular in California. The sea level off the coast of California can rise significantly during an El Nio. Big issues arose as a result of this increase in 1983.