By Erin Gustafson
Today marks the beginning of hurricane season, a six-month period in which most of the United States’ hurricanes and tropical storms occur. Of course, the east coast of Florida got the party started early this past Memorial Day weekend, hosting tropical storm Beryl with its 10 inches of rain and maximum sustained wind speed of 70 mph, just one in a series of extreme weather events that took place over the holiday weekend. Beryl is especially significant because it is the largest tropical storm to reach land before the official start of hurricane season on June 1st.
“I hope this is not a sign of things to come,” commented U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, alluding to the nine to fifteen named storms, including four to eight hurricanes, NOAA’s forecasters predict will appear between now and the end of the season on November 30. Unfortunately for all of us, the future doesn’t look terribly rosy.
As dramatic as NOAA’s hurricane predictions may sound, the agency is saying that they constitute a “near normal” hurricane season which will be less severe than recent years. Still, it’s worth noting that any hurricane will bring strong winds, heavy rains, and flooding, and it only takes one massive storm to wreak major havoc.
More troubling still is that hurricane and tropical storm-related flooding this year and in the future will be exacerbated by the effects of rising seas. In the past hundred and fifty years sea levels have risen 8 inches and scientists estimate that they will rise between one and seven feet by the end of the century. With recent reports of melting ice sheets in Antarctica and rapidly disappearing glaciers due to climate change, and emerging concern about the role of increased use of water previously locked up in underground aquifers, predictions on the high end are becoming increasingly likely.
A four foot rise in sea level could endanger 5 million residents living in 2.6 million homes on $500 billion of residential real estate in the U.S., not to mention 300 energy-producing facilities, airports, thousands of miles of roads and numerous other types of infrastructure, making them increasingly vulnerable to increased storm surges and flooding.
At a Senate Hearing on the “Impacts of Rising Sea Levels on Domestic Infrastructures“ in April, Dr. Ben Strauss of Climate Central warned that rising seas would “raise the launch pad for coastal storm surges,” more than tripling the odds of what used to be “once in a century floods” within the next two decades.