What King Tide & King Kong have in common – A South Florida Sea Level Rise story
Bottom Line: These are stories you shouldn't miss and my takes on them...
Excerpt: It’s king tide season again in South Florida, when an intrusive sea lifts fancy boats to street levels, forces tourists to slosh their way through thoroughfares, and sends cities rushing to erect barricades.
Increasingly, local governments appear to be growing more proactive about protecting their citizens and property from adverse forces of nature. All around South Florida, cities and counties are acting not only on their own initiatives but in concert with others to find ways to defend against sea-level rise and the high seasonal tides that accompany it.
It’s not that they need to be reminded of the sense of urgency. In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that rising sea levels and frequent storms set flood records across the United States in 2017 — and warned that 2018 could be worse. That poses an increasing challenge for Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, and other South Florida cities where high tides can inundate low-lying neighborhoods.
Hot Take: It’s not that sea-level rise isn’t part of a longer-term trend and potential threat. It’s true that king tide is a very real concern in low-lying areas – independent of extremes brought by events like hurricanes. It’s that perspective and pragmatism is lacking. It’s hard to go more than a day or two without having the next “sky is falling” type of report about sea-level rise generally without context. Based on the proliferation of reporting you’d likely be inclined to think that the situation is significantly worse progressively than perhaps it is.
For some South Florida context here’s a first important point. Sea-level rise has certainly occurred. If you’re looking for evidence just, try to locate the first beach road (pre) A1A in South Florida. You’ll find it in low tide in pieces throughout the Palm Beaches. It’s also been that way for well over 100 years. The question isn’t whether tides have risen, it’s what the causation is and what’s happening now. There is no shortage of doomsday reports predicting outcomes, but environmental predictions have been highly unreliable historically. In part because the environment/climate is always changing. Clearly, the sea-level rise issue in South Florida has existed well before the recent doomsayers. So, what’s happened recently?
According to NASA scientists, we’re averaging .1 inches per year. That’s certainly not insignificant but it has been extremely consistent. Between 1990 and today the change hasn’t varied. That’s potentially not good news should this continue in perpetuity, but it also isn't the end of the world in the near term. In other words, concerns have a basis in reality, but the recent uptick in related stories and concerns isn’t based on an increase in the trend. As scientists also point out, the longer-term trend isn’t equitable everywhere. For example, there are actually places where sea-levels are lower than they used to be based on other localized changes. Any increase for many communities is potentially problematic from here but the trend line suggests that in 100 years if no changes in the long-term sea-level rise trend occurred, levels would still be well under a foot higher from current levels. Not good but also not Armageddon.