News

Nate in my front yard, sea-level rise in my office

By: Renee Collini / Published: Oct 16,  2017

I work on sea-level rise, coordinating NOAAs Sentinel Site Cooperative. I also live on Dauphin Island. Many find this to be quite a juxtaposition because barrier islands, like Dauphin Island, are expected to experience some of the earliest and worst hazards from sea-level rise. The home I live in has been around since the early 1950s and has never flooded, including during iconic storms such as Camille (1969), Frederic (1979), Opal (1995), Georges (1998), Ivan (2004) and Katrina (2005).

Those of you from the region might remember that Frederic was powerful enough to take out the bridge to Dauphin Island, but it did flood not my house.

This fact certainly generates a sense of security; however, because of my work with sea-level rise, I know that it is only a matter of time until we can no longer say “this house has never flooded."

Figure 1. A screen shot from the soon to be released story maps that visualize storm surge with sea-level rise. These panels show storm surge on Dauphin Island at different amounts of sea-level rise. The red arrow shows my house. Moving clockwise from the top left, the amount of sea-level rise is (0.2 m, 0.5 m, 1.2 m, 2.0 m). Homes like mine that have historically not flooded in hurricanes will in the future. Data are from the LSU Center for Coastal Resiliency and NOAA’s Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise Program.

Research led by scientists at the LSU Center for Coastal Resiliency (CCR) has resulted in a better understanding of how sea-level rise will alter our coastlines and impact hurricane storm surge. The results of some of their work are being synthesized into an online mapping platform to communicate and display how storm surge can change with sea-level rise. It will be out later this month, but I got a sneak peek (Fig 1), and you can see how with some sea-level rise my house will start experiencing storm surge. 

But that left me with a big question as Hurricane Nate came zipping toward us: Have we already experienced enough sea-level rise for Nate to flood my house?

Concerned about a hurricane heading our way, I used a couple of tools to figure out how worried I should be. One of my favorites is the Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment (CERA, Fig 2) tool that has storm surge predictions.*

I especially liked it because the models differentiated the amount of surge you could expect at different points on the island. Those of us who have lived on Dauphin Island know the island is not created equal when it comes to flooding. In the end, based on how much sea-level rise we have experienced, the present-day tools like CERA, and the intensity of the storm, I decided I did not need to focus too much time on prepping the house for storm surge. 

Figure 2. Screen shot of the Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment tool showing predicted surge from Hurricane Nate along the north-central Gulf Coast. Insert: specific predictions for Dauphin Island.*
Figure 2. Screen shot of the Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment tool showing predicted surge from Hurricane Nate along the north-central Gulf Coast. Insert: specific predictions for Dauphin Island.*

The people who built this house knew what they were doing when they picked the location; Nate did not bring flooding to our front door. But sea levels are not the same as they were 60 years ago.

If I had not known about sea-level rise, I probably would have never given surge a second thought. However, because I knew about the risks I was able to make an informed decision about my hurricane preparation.

This experience has encouraged me to redouble my efforts on communicating the changes and risks that come with rising seas to help people understand that “my house has never flooded” does not mean “my house will never flood."

For more tools and resources to understand and plan for sea-level rise in the northern Gulf Coast check out www.ngomssc.org and follow us on twitter @NGOM_SSC. You can also learn more about how even a few inches of sea-level rise can make a big difference in storm surge by going to the CCR’s page on the Coastal Dynamics of Sea Level Rise.

*One thing to keep in mind, the storm surge forecasts and graphical displays on CERA are research efforts and should never be considered as official storm surge guidance. Official storm surge guidance should be obtained from National Weather Service advisories.

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