Hurricane Nicole, King Tides & Sea Level Rise Flood Real Estate in South Florida

Here’s a quick vid of the neighborhood and street flooding I saw today in Delray Beach, Florida . Hurricane Nicole, king tides — when the alignment of the sun and moon create extra strong pull on the ocean — and sea level rise conspired to create quite a mess in many locations along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Even without Nicole, these neighborhoods have flooded in the past. I strongly recommend that anyone buying real estate in coastal communities check flood maps to see if they’re at risk. If your house, townhouse or condo doesn’t flood, but your street does you’re still screwed. Driving through salt water is murder on a vehicle, and eventually sea level rise will hit your property.

Buyers and sellers also need to pay attention to what their city or town is doing to address sea level rise flooding. Some of the locations that flooded during Nicole have received infrastructure upgrades — higher sea walls, better drainage, pump stations — that were supposed to prevent flooding but didn’t. This is a costly mistake for homeowners and taxpayers.

Florida: Living Perilously on the Front Line of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

As a resident of South Florida, I’ve witnessed firsthand for years the impact of climate change and sea level rise on people and property. Most coastal communities here are already experiencing beach erosion and pockets of street and property flooding that are only getting worse as sea level rises.

In addition to beach erosion and sea level rise flooding, many cities and towns throughout Florida have also been hit by hurricanes supercharged by global warming that have caused tens of billions of dollars in damages. Here, too, sea level rise plays a role as higher seas mean stronger and more damaging storm surges.

Hurricane Ian is the latest super-charged storm to bring death and destruction to the Sunshine State. Sadly, more than 100 lives were lost to the storm in Southwest Florida. And the latest estimates are that it will take $75-100 billion to rebuild the homes, businesses and infrastructure destroyed by the mega-storm.

In addition to destroying many lives and billions of dollars in property, Hurricane Ian also rolled over Florida’s already wrecked property insurance market. Before the storm, fraud — mainly involving roofers replacing roofs before its necessary and billing insurance companies for the work — and costly storms created a marketplace where Floridians pay three times the national average for homeowners insurance. The losses have been so bad that many insurers have already fled the state or gone out of business, leaving Citizens Insurance, the state-run insurer of last resort for homeowners who can’t get policies elsewhere, to pick up the slack. Citizens now has more than one million policies, and there’s no sign the explosive growth will slow anytime soon. If anything, Hurricane Ian is going to force more private insurers out of business forcing tens of thousands more homeowners onto Citizens’ rolls.

Further complicating the insurance problem is the fact that only around 20% of Floridian homeowners carry flood insurance because they can’t afford it or they underestimate the threat. This is especially tragic considering that Hurricane Ian caused serious flood damage not only to coastal communities but well inland in counties where people never guessed they’d get hit by high water.

Earlier this year, the Florida state legislature held a special session to consider ways to alleviate the high cost of homeowners insurance but left without anything to show for the effort. The questions at this point are: 1. Why doesn’t anyone know what to do to fix Florida’s insurance problem? and 2. Is it possible that there isn’t any way to address it?

The first question needs to be posed to political leaders, insurers, and business and consumer groups. Together, perhaps, they can figure out how to crack down on roof repair fraud and find a mechanism to subsidize the cost of insurance for owners who can’t afford it.

The second question may make the first question moot. It’s clear that climate change and sea level rise are going to get worse for decades to come. This is mainly due to the fact that humans aren’t reducing the amount of fossil fuels — oil, coal and natural gas — we burn, which is releasing record amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Basic science says more carbon dioxide and methane mean more global warming, sea level rise and ever more powerful hurricanes, tropical storms and downpours.

The end result is that even if fraud is eliminated as a problem for Florida insurers, sea level rise flooding, mega-charged hurricanes with damaging storm surge that reaches further inland, and flooding from rainstorms are going to continue to increase as a challenge to coastal communities. As Hurricane Ian proved, even communities well inland can be hit by devastating floods from heavy rains.

If that’s not enough, sea level rise is pushing ocean water inland underground in areas that have porous limestone, sand, and even lava, as its foundation rock, which pushes the freshwater table up toward the surface where it has the potential to promote flooding well inland. This scenario is already being realized in some neighborhoods in South Florida and Hawaii.

The ultimate danger of a collapse of the home insurance market is not only that owners won’t be covered for their losses but mortgage providers won’t want to share the risk on uninsured properties and they will no longer provide loans. This will lock up a real estate market and cause a collapse in market value.

In Florida, homeowners of modest means are already going without insurance because the cost is too high. And some are considering selling their properties here because they can’t afford the carrying costs.

Florida is seriously at the front line of the climate change and sea level rise battle. Homeowners in other states watching what happens in the insurance market here should pay heed. The Sunshine State experience is likely portends their future and it’s anything but bright.

Hurricane Ian Exposing Real Estate Prone to Sea Level Rise Flooding

As Hurricane Ian churns toward Florida today, it’s sending rain bands into the southern half of the peninsula. Driving in South Florida where I live, I saw several streets and intersections near the Intracoastal Waterway that don’t normally flood during heavy rainstorms filled with a foot or more of water. Real estate was also being impacted. While the rain is certainly contributing to the flooding, the real culprit is king tides — extra high tides due to the alignment of the sun and moon — combined with sea level rise.

Unfortunately, the storm is striking at the height of a week of higher than normal tides that peaks on Thursday. If today is any indication, the flooding is going to not only flood roads, it’s going to flood yards and homes in the days to come.

Each neighborhood I visited was flooding because of saltwater topping seawalls, emerging out of storm grates, or because pump systems couldn’t keep up. Sadly, I also saw some residents awestruck that their neighborhoods were flooding, even though some of them have been flooding for years. My best guess is that they purchased the properties without being aware of the flooding risk.

Another point to ponder is that many people who bought a property that itself isn’t flooding are discovering that owning real estate that you can’t reach because of sea level rise flooding is a major management issue and a pain in the neck. It’s also disconcerting because unless the flooding is prevented — through the use of elevated seawalls, elevated roads or pumps — sea level rise will eventually cause the flooding to swamp yards and homes.

What I witnessed today in my town is certainly occurring in many other coastal communities this week. It’s a powerful reminder that owners in coastal communities need to start considering sea level rise in their plans, and buyers need to perform due diligence to make sure that their property of interest, streets and neighborhood aren’t currently flooding or likely to flood in the future hurricane or no hurricane.

Video: King Tide Sea Level Rise Flooding Season Kicks Off Along the US Coastline

Aaaaaaand, here we go again. King tide sea level rise flooding season kicked off this week in the historic Marina District in Delray Beach, Florida. Every fall, the sun and moon align in a way that creates extra high tides over and over again.

Coastal communities all over the US are experiencing similar sunny day flooding that’s only getting worse due to sea level rise. Cities and towns are spending billions of dollars to hold back the water, which will ultimately be proven futile unless we cut back on burning the fossil fuels that are causing global warming.

This round of flooding, which peaks on Thursday, is bound to worsen the storm surge from Hurricane Ian. I really feel for the people who have to live like this. The salty water is murder on vehicles and property. Stay tuned.

Buyers Beware: Owners are Selling Properties Targeted for Sea Level Rise Flooding Buyouts

The Miami Herald ran two articles (both behind paywalls/titles listed below) on Sunday that discussed how the Florida Keys and Miami-Dade County are managing properties targeted for buyouts due to storm surge and sea level rise flooding. The Florida Keys is making some slow process in purchasing distressed properties, while Miami-Dade County has dropped the ball completely. In both locales, some owners dazzled by rapidly appreciating real estate prices have resorted to selling properties to buyers after applying to buyout programs, which, unfortunately, puts the new buyers, wittingly or unwittingly, at risk of flooding complications.

Thousands of US coastal properties have been purchased through government buyouts over the last decade, and the trend is accelerating as the sea level rises. Often the buyouts occur after hurricane storm surges (which are growing more powerful and damaging as sea level rises) flood neighborhoods. Buyouts are also becoming more common in areas that experience so-called rainy day or nuisance flooding due to much higher than normal tides.

National and state governments are eager to remove properties that require frequent, expensive repair or replacement from repeated flooding from the insurance rolls. They also want to avoid the expense of maintaining critical infrastructure — such as roads, sewer and water systems, and storm drains — in flood-prone areas.

After Hurricane Irma sent a powerful and devastating storm surge into some of the Florida Keys in 2017, Monroe County acquired federal funding to buyout damaged and flood-prone properties. The county received 80 applications from real estate owners and has purchased nine properties. County officials hope to buy another dozen soon.

According to the Miami Herald article, one massive roadblock that has prevented more purchases is rapid appreciation in the housing market over the last couple of years. In some cases, owners who had agreed to the buyout and demolition of their frequently-flooded properties decided instead to sell them for prices higher than they would have received under the buyout program. To remedy the situation, the county has received permission to offer more money for properties from the state agency that’s coordinated the buyout funds.

Miami-Dade County initiated a similar buyout program, but in three years the county hasn’t purchased a single one of ten properties that were targeted by buyouts. The lack of performance has led to the state administrative agency taking back the funds that were to be used for the purchases. Some of the buyout eligible property owners are angry that the county failed to complete the purchases as promised. In one instance, a developer has purchased a flood-prone property with the intent of constructing an 11-unit building on the lot. The developer was unable to tell the county what steps it would take to flood-proof the property but the county approved the project anyway.

Buyouts are controversial but necessary in areas where properties cannot be protected from storm surge and sea level rise flooding. Buyout opponents believe no matter how many times a property floods, insurers and governments are responsible for helping them to repair the damage and maintain roads and water and sewer service. Proponents, however, recognize when the battle is lost and they appreciated the government assistance when they’re ready to move on.

The current situation where some homes targeted for buyouts are actually purchased and demolished while others are being sold to buyers with or without them being aware of the property’s flood status needs to be addressed. The fact is each state has its own seller disclosure laws, so too often buyers are left in the dark about the level of threat posed by storm surge and sea level rise flooding. Until this unfair situation is resolved, buyers need to gather information from more than just sellers to ensure they’re not purchasing a property that was targeted for a buyout unless they’re prepared to accept the risk that their investment will literally end up underwater.

Editor’s Note: Here are the paywall protected article titles “Miami-Dade failed to buy flooded homes; Now high-risk sites open to more development” and “Buyouts take flood-prone Keys properties off the market. There are more sellers waiting”.

Credit Rating Service DBRS Morningstar Explores Threat Sea Level Rise Flooding Poses to Commercial Real Estate

DBRS Morningstar, a global credit ratings business, released a report this week titled “As Seas Rise, Coastal Commercial Properties Will Need to Batten Down the Hatches” that explores the threat sea level rise flooding poses to commercial real estate.

Analysts combined data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — which estimates sea level rise in the next thirty years will exceed the total rise that occurred in the last 100 years — and flood risk data from First Street Foundation and Arup to identify the coastal communities most at risk of flooding. “The five metropolitan areas with the highest aggregated total projected structural damage costs across office, retail, and multi-unit residential buildings are the Miami (with an estimated $1.07 billion in structural damages), New York ($0.58 billion), Pittsburgh ($0.45 billion), Boston ($0.33 billion) and Houston ($0.29 billion) metropolitan areas,” according to the report. Inland Pittsburgh was included in the report because its proximity to three rivers that meet makes it “particularly susceptible to flooding”.

The report notes that in addition to a heightened risk of flooding from higher more powerful storm surges, more intense rainstorms, and nuisance flooding (tidal flooding that occurs when there are no storms around), owners of commercial real estate may find it difficult to pay for flooding-related repairs. That’s because the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program caps coverage at $500,000 for a commercial building and $500,000 for its contents. Owners have to turn to the private insurance market for additional coverage.

To combat sea level rise flooding, the report mentions options such as raising elevations at development sites, elevating mechanicals, and installing temporary/portable seawalls, but the authors also note that site-specific solutions aren’t enough. They have to be made in tandem with community efforts to protect critical infrastructure.

In addition to flood damage, insurance, and prevention efforts, the DBRS Morningstar report also mentions that credit rating agencies are beginning to consider the impact of sea level rise flooding as a factor in financial transactions. “Investors and underwriters no longer have the luxury of simply checking if a property is outside of FEMA’s 100-year flood zones and verifying there is some evidence of flood insurance,” the report says. “Because climate change is rapidly evolving, models based solely on historical data have become less accurate.”

The bottom line here is that commercial real estate owners can expect far more closer scrutiny of their individual properties and their exposure to sea level rise flooding when they’re seeking loans. This report is a must-read for anyone involved in commercial real estate located in coastal communities experiencing or at-risk of experiencing sea level rise flooding.

New Campaign Motivates People to Act on Climate Change and Sea Level Rise, But Is It Enough?

“There’s still time to prevent climate change devastation” is a message that’s being repeated by public officials, many climate scientists, and pundits. Actually motivating people to get involved, however, is a critical challenge that could make a huge difference in where we end up.

The CLEO Institute and the VoLo Foundation — two non-profit organizations working to solve the climate crisis in Florida –have teamed up with the Union of Concerned Scientists to launch a public awareness campaign that uses a unique gift shop to show the public what’s at stake in the Sunshine State and asks them to do something about it. A video released today features The Emergency State gift shop, where shoppers (apparently actors) are shown browsing typical tourist merchandise when water floods through vents into the store. The tourists appear shocked by the experience, then they tell interviewers that they’re convinced something needs to be done to fight climate change and sea level rise.

Viewers are encouraged to sign a petition — titled “Don’t Let the Sunshine State Become the Emergency State!” — that calls on elected officials to do more to “stop depending on dirty, polluting energy sources that are rising temperatures and disrupting our climate”. The petition notes that climate change is already impacting Floridians’ lives. “It is driving higher costs of real estate, property insurance, energy, and food,” the petition states, “along with an imminent threat to our drinking water source due to seawater intrusion, as well as loss of our precious biodiversity, like our coral reef systems and the Florida manatee.” The petition’s goal is to pressure elected officials to put “Florida on a clean, renewable energy pathway and a rapid transition to net-zero emissions by 2040”. They have a point, too. Florida’s governor is spending billions of dollars on defenses against sea level rise flooding but won’t publicly acknowledge that burning oil, coal and natural gas is the driving force behind global warming and sea level rise.

Now for the review:

I had mixed reactions watching the video and reading the petition. While the groups involved in The Emergency State project should be commended for their effort to increase public awareness of the impact climate change and sea level rise flooding are having in Florida, I’m not sure this is the most effective approach. Floridians and most people who live in US coastal communities are already seeing the real-world effects of climate change and sea level rise flooding on national and local news programs. Real people, not actors, are regularly shown trudging and driving through floodwaters, so I’m not sure what value an admittedly creative dramatization adds to the public discussion.

I believe what’s really missing from our public discourse — and what many people are eager to see — is a campaign that shows them what specific steps they can take right now to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that is causing the planet to rapidly warm. If such a campaign already exists, it’s certainly not reaching me.

My dream campaign (disclosure: I have worked in public relations, public affairs, grassroots organizing, marketing, and advertising and as a reporter and columnist) would cover the actions I listed in an article I posted on Earth Day in May. I imagine 30-60 second public service announcements that illustrate the following productive actions:

  1. Vote ONLY for candidates who are dedicated to fighting climate change.
  2. Drive only when necessary, consolidate trips and share the ride.
  3. Purchase the most energy efficient vehicles you can afford and ride public transportation when available.
  4. Weather-proof your home and office and set thermostats at a reasonable level.
  5. Buy energy-efficient appliances.
  6. Turn off lights and electronics that aren’t in use.
  7. Buy only goods you actually need.
  8. Eat a more plant-based diet.

I’m sure there are many more tips that could be added to this list. The point of this exercise is that people are becoming increasingly aware of the impact climate change is having on their lives. Now, instead of making them more fearful, we need to show them what they can do to make a difference.

This approach has worked before, it can work again. For example: When I was a kid during the energy crisis in the 1970s, ads that asked people to take steps similar to the ones listed above were effective reminders that we weren’t mere pawns in the energy economy, even the smallest gestures repeated by hundreds of millions of Americans could make a big difference. I’d gladly participate in any effort to get the “YOU Can Stop Climate Change Now” campaign started.

Sea Level Rise Will Impact 650,000 US Properties by 2050

A study released today by Climate Central, a climate change research group, concluded that 650,000 US coastal properties will be impacted by sea level rise flooding by 2050. To reach this conclusion, researchers analyzed state and county level tax reports in areas currently experiencing or at-risk of sea level rise flooding.

Among the key findings:

  1. More than 648,000 properties on 4.4 million acres are at risk of experiencing at least some measure of flooding.
  2. Over 48,000 properties may be entirely flooded.
  3. The low elevation states of Florida, Louisiana and Texas have the most at-risk properties.
  4. By 2100, over $100 billion worth of property will be at risk from rising seas.

The loss of properties threatens to create other problems for coastal communities and whole states. Properties that flood may become uninhabitable or lose value, which can harm the tax base that pays for schools, emergency services, critical infrastructure and numerous other services. Individual property owners, too, could also see their valuable real estate assets lose value, which can impact their wealth and retirement income.

To combat sea level rise flooding, governments in coastal communities are investing billions of dollars in property buyouts, pumping stations, the elevation of roads and other critical infrastructure, and the creation and improvement of sea walls and other flood-control barriers. In most cases, property owners are paying higher taxes to fund the projects. The loss of property value and tax revenues due to sea level rise flooding could create a spiral that makes funding these projects increasingly expensive, which will leave even more properties vulnerable to flooding.

Among the solutions Climate Central researchers recommend governments implement are encouraging development outside the sea level rise flooding risk zones, educating property owners about the risks rising seas pose to them, and, of course, reducing the burning of fossil fuels that are behind global warming and sea level rise.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Reconsider Miami Storm Surge Plan

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers folded to public opposition this week and agreed to hold off on a controversial plan to construct flood gates and high walls along the coast to prevent storm surge from inundating the city.

The Cops sent a letter to Miami-Dade County officials notifying them that they will spend over $8 million and up to five years working to come up with new plans that use more natural solutions to fending off storm surges in way that would also help Biscayne Bay, which is suffering environmental degradation due to sewage spills and other human activities. This basically takes the Corps back to square one after an initial $3 million and three years were spent drafting a plan to address storm surge.

Opposition to the initial plan came from residents who did not want to see the construction of tall and unsightly floodgates and walls blocking the view along the city’s coastline. The Corps had also proposed elevating flood-prone structures and buying out owners of properties that could not be saved. In addition to considering natural surge-control solutions, the corps has also agreed to consider other on-going projects — such as Everglades restoration — that could be impacted by its activities.

It’s important to note that the Corps’s proposed $4.6 billion surge-control project was not designed to eliminate or mitigate sea level rise flooding. Miami-Dade County has adopted its own strategy for dealing with sea level rise flooding. Some projects are already in the construction phase.

Disturbing Developments in Greenland and Antarctica Could Accelerate Sea Level Rise Flooding and Impact Coastal Real Estate Markets

Last week, scientists reported that humans have already pumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to cause enough global warming to guarantee that Greenland alone will contribute up to a foot of sea level rise. This week, scientists added to the bad news by reporting that Antarctica’s so called “doomsday glacier” is melting rapidly from the bottom and its collapse could potentially add a devastating 10 feet to ocean levels. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, this week researchers also observed a heat wave melting Greenland’s ice sheet at a rate more typical of mid-July than the beginning of September, which means even more water running off the land to the ocean where it contributes to sea level rise.

Unfortunately for people trying to decide whether or not a coastal community is a good place to invest in real estate based on past and present sea level rise flooding, the rapid changes in Antarctica and Greenland could be sudden and decisive game changers. If ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica continue to rapidly destabilize, events that cause sudden increases in sea level rise could become the new normal, just as we’ve seen climate change drive an increase in the number of what used to be called 100-year flooding events due to excessive rain at locations around the globe.

As humans continue to burn fossil fuels that pump massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we’re sure to see upward revisions in the pace and height of sea level rise. This makes it very difficult for buyers who want to purchase a property using a 30-year mortgage in areas currently experiencing sea level rise flooding or that are at risk of flooding in the decades to come to make informed decisions. It also makes it difficult for current owners to decide whether or not they should continue to hold a property in an at-risk area.

Further compounding the risk for buyers and owners of real estate in coastal communities is the reality that scientists aren’t the only ones monitoring the factors that can speed up sea level rise. Insurers and mortgage providers who share the risk with buyers and owners are also keeping a keen eye on the latest developments and acting accordingly. Private insurers are abandoning some markets where sea level rise-intensified storm surge flooding poses too great a risk. And mortgage providers that have to peer thirty years in the future to see if they’re going to make a profit on a loan are being ever more careful in the loan approval process.

If insurers and/or mortgage providers decide that doing business in at-risk coastal communities isn’t worth it, this could throw local real estate markets into turmoil. The risk isn’t just theoretical. Florida, for example, considered the most at-risk state for sea level rise-intensified storm surge and so-called sea level rise nuisance flooding, is already seeing property insurers pull out of the market in part because they’re not solvent enough to assume the risk. This has left thousands of homeowners scrambling for new private insurance policies or turning to state-run Citizens Property Insurance, which was supposed to be the insurer of last resort. The state has been seeking solutions to the property insurance crisis that’s sure to worsen as sea level continues to rise.

Homeowners with federally backed mortgages are required to carry adequate property and flood insurance. If the insurance market collapses, most buyers will not be able to get loans. This in turn will cause properties to lose value.

Experts stress that there’s still time for humans to stop burning fossil fuels at a rate that contributes to global warming and sea level rise. There are steps being taken to rein it in, but whether effective action will be taken quickly enough to avert disaster in Greenland and Antarctica has yet to be seen. The ice sheets in both locations are definitely growing hazards that few people involved in coastal real estate can afford to ignore.

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