Late last year, Climate Central reported on U.S. cities most at risk from rising ocean levels.
We are pleased to announce that no communities in the Santa Ynez Valley are on the list, which shouldn’t be a total surprise, given that we’re several hundred feet above sea level. In fact, only a smattering of California cities face future flooding issues, at least with regard to the involvement of sea-level rise.
We generally have other sorts of flooding problems — as in torrential winter rains dumping tons of water on wildfire burn areas, causing mudslides of catastrophic proportions.
A warming planet is melting ice caps, adding volume to Earth’s oceans, which translates to disappearing waterfront property, some of it among the priciest real estate in the world.
Most people think flooding coastlines is something that may happen way off in the future. Hurricane Harvey proved otherwise last year for tens of thousands of Houston residents. An unusual confluence of weather and tides swamped many neighborhoods, driving people out, some of whom will never return.
Hurricane Sandy sent the same kind of warning six years ago, veering onto the Northeast coast, flooding 51 square miles of New York City, causing an estimated $50 billion in damages, and killing 157 people.
Climate Central keyed on those two events to do some estimates on which American cities are most at risk, now and in the years to come.
Not surprisingly, New York City is No. 1 on the to-be-flooded list, in large part because of its size, population and low-lying proximity to significant bodies of water. The survey listed dozens of cities at risk today, and put together another list of the most-vulnerable in 2050, which once was a far-off, science-fiction-story date but is now less than a generation away.
After New York City, almost every other at-risk city is on the coast of Florida. Metro Miami ranks No.2 behind Gotham.
Florida’s domination of the at-risk list is no surprise. The highest point in the state is 345 feet, in Clermont, which is pretty much in the dead-center of the state.
Compare that to the elevation above sea level of Solvang, a shade over 500 feet. Another fact is that Clermont’s 345 feet height is the lowest high point in the continental U.S.
The analysis for 2050 is just as grim for Florida, but other cities all up and down the Eastern Seaboard are facing almost certain flooding scenarios, given the right combination of bad weather and tides.
It’s not just real estate facing severe change. These types of catastrophes have social consequences, and when applying the metrics of a social-vulnerability index, the worst-off list shuffles, bringing cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Houston into the mix.
California doesn’t escape the damage. Experts reckon more than 170,000 Californians are currently at risk in case of coastal flooding, with that number swelling to more than 205,000 by 2050.
The problem is that, even with the Harvey and Sandy outcomes, not much is being done to prepare for the inevitable. Polar ice is melting, sea levels are rising, and too many government officials are in denial about any of it.
Talks about rebuilding America’s infrastructure need to include making accommodations for the millions of Americans who will be displaced, permanently, when their cities are under water. It’s worse for some more than others, but it is a probability of such magnitude that big solutions are needed.
We need to put our skepticism aside and get to work.