Coastal Damage Caused by Storm Surges at High Tide, Not by Tiny Rise in Sea Levels
(p. A11) When Teddy Roosevelt built his Sagamore Hill on Long Island, he did so a quarter mile from shore at an elevation of 115 feet not because he disdained proximity to the beach or was precociously worried about climate change. The federal government did not stand ready with taxpayer money to defray his risk.
Estimates vary, but sea levels may have risen two millimeters a year over the past century. Meanwhile, tidal cycles along the U.S. east coast range from 11 feet every day (in Boston) to two feet (parts of Florida).
On top of this, a "notable surge event" can produce a storm surge of seven to 23 feet, according to a federal list of 10 hurricanes over the past 70 years.
We should not exaggerate the degree to which homeowners are being asked to shoulder their own risks. Washington is doling out five-figure checks to Jersey homeowners to raise houses on pilings to reduce the federal government's future rebuilding costs. But, to state the obvious, normal tidal variation plus storm surge is the danger to coastal property. Background sea-level rise is a non-factor. A FEMA study from several years ago found that fully a quarter of coastal dwellings are liable to be destroyed over a 50-year period.
Though it pleased New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pretend Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was caused by global warming, the storm wasn't even a hurricane by the time it hit shore--it just happened to hit at peak tide. Sure, certain people in Florida and elsewhere like to conflate the two. It's in their interests to do so.
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