Bad News For Coastal Real Estate: The Oceans Hit Another Heat Record

Researchers released a report this week that concluded that the ocean temperature hit a new record last year. This is a problem for all of us. The world’s oceans store 90 percent of the heat generated from global warming.

The 2019 record isn’t a one-off either. It’s part of a disturbing trend. The researchers reported that the oceans were the warmest ever over the last 10 years.

Hotter oceans contribute to the warming of the atmosphere and land on a global scale. As a result, we will continue to see more extreme weather, including wildfires, droughts and stronger tropical storms and hurricanes. Sea life is also being harmed.

Hotter oceans are also intensifying and accelerating the two major drivers of sea level rise flooding. Land-based ice sheets will continue to melt faster, sending more runoff into the oceans. And the oceans themselves will continue to expand as they heat up.

Scientists have been calling for anywhere from three-to-six feet of sea level rise by 2100. A foot or two of that total could be on our doorsteps by 2050.

Coastal communities are already struggling to protect lives and real estate with the foot or so of sea level rise that has accumulated since 1900. Many already need hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to defend roads and other critical infrastructure. With funding in short supply, many communities are putting off these critical projects, which puts lives and property at risk.

When you combine the ocean heating analysis, published in the journal Advances In Atmospheric Sciences, with reports that have found accelerating atmospheric temperatures — 2019 was the second hottest on record for the globe — it’s clear that buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents need to start taking sea level rise flooding seriously when they’re dealing with coastal real estate.

Sea Level Rise Reality: No Roads, No Real Estate

Communities from Hawaii to the Florida Keys are already confronting a harsh reality of sea level rise flooding. When flood waters inundate or undermine roads, they have a choice: spend millions or even billions of dollars to save the roads, or abandon them and the real estate that relies on them.

According to a recent report by Mahealani Richardson for HawaiiNewsNow, sea level rise-driven erosion recently caused 1,500 feet of highway to collapse in Haaula, a town on O’ahu. The state is spending $600,000 on emergency repairs, but a permanent solution to save the coastal highway from rising seas could cost up to $1.5 billion for a dozen miles.

Ed Sniffen, a highways administrator, told NewsNow, “It’s a huge but complex situation that we have to consider. Not only are we affecting who can drive through that area in the future, but access to that area in the future.”

Monroe County officials in the Florida Keys are facing the same challenge. According to an article by Theresa Java posted on KeysNews.com, county commissioners there are considering whether to elevate a road in Stillwright Point that flooded 91 days between September and December or abandon it altogether. The road’s fate — and the property owners who rely on it to get around — will depend on how much it will cost to save the road and, considering that seas continue to rise, how much time the repair will buy.

The county’s resiliency officer said a billion dollars probably isn’t enough to save all of the county’s 314 miles of roads. Mayor Heather Carruthers said, “This is the very beginning of very difficult decisions that governments around the world will be forced to make.”

If you search “sea level rise road” on Google, you’ll find dozens of cities and town are confronting the same sea level rise problem. Finding a solution isn’t just a cost-benefit question. Officials also have to consider the decision’s impact on local residents. In some cases, residents have threatened to sue if the government abandons their lifeline roads.

Buyers taking a look at real estate in coastal areas need to consider not only whether or not a property of interest is experiencing sea level rise flooding, they also have to consider how sea level rise flooding is impacting critical infrastructure, such as roads and water and sewer service. The floodwaters could not only prevent them from getting around and receiving critical services, they could also result in a huge tax hike if a community has to initiate projects to save the infrastructure. In a worst case scenario, flooding could force them to move.

Infrastructure issues are discussed in detail in “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions.”

Sea Level Rise Flooding Victims in Norfolk, Virginia, Develop a King Tide App

Tired of sitting idle while sea level rise flooding inundated their neighborhood, an enterprising group of citizens in Norfolk, Virginia, decided to band together and develop a King Tide app. Dave Mayfield, a former environmental reporter, told CBS he was depressed from all the bad climate change news so he came up with the idea for the “Catch the King” app. Now hundreds of residents are measuring the timing and extent of king tide and sea level rise-driven flooding that emerges out of Callie Bay. Their data will help mappers to improve the accuracy of their tide and flooding forecasts.

The CBS report by Brooke Silva-Braga includes a quote from a new resident who didn’t know about the regular flooding of his yard until after he bought the property. He said it cost him $90,000 to raise his property. That, my friends, is why I wrote “7 Sea Level Rise Real Estate Questions.” The book tells folks buying in coastal areas — as well as sellers, owners, and real estate agents — what they need to know about sea level rise flooding BEFORE they decide how to proceed in a real estate transaction. Virginia, incidentally, is one of the states with the laxest seller disclosure requirement laws, which is also discussed at length in the book.

Santa Barbara, CA, Officials Prepare to Release Sea Level Rise Battle Plan

Sea level rise is a threat along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines. Officials in coastal communities are increasingly waking up to the threat of sea level rise-driven flooding and creating plans to combat it to protect real estate and their way of life.

Officials in Santa Barbara, CA, are putting finishing touches on a report due to be released next month that will include recommendations on how the city can mitigate sea level rise flooding damage. According to an article in The Log, a publication for California boating and fishing enthusiasts, the report will call for changes to the harbor breakwater, a program to more closely monitor the shoreline, and raising the city pier and marina facilities.

Without the modifications, experts predict sea level rise will claim the city’s sandy beaches by 2060 and the harbor will become unusable by 2100. Read more here.

Sea Level Rise Picks Up Pace in South Florida and the Keys

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact is warning member governments from Palm Beach County to the Keys to start planning for 17 inches to 31 inches of sea level rise in the next four decades. The group released data at its annual meeting in Key West last month that increased sea level rise projections an additional 3 to 5 inches over previous forecasts.

Chronic sea level rise flooding already has Keys officials considering instituting a managed retreat, where the government buys out real estate and abandons roads. Many coastal governments are considering retreat as an option, especially in areas where maintaining infrastructure is considered too expensive for the number of residents served. The challenge if finding the money to purchase the distressed real estate and convincing owners who don’t want to sell. Read more in this Bloomberg Environment article.

NOAA Official Says It’s Time To Call It “Sea Level Rise Flooding”

An official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told a Boston-area newspaper that it’s time to stop calling the chronic tidal flooding that’s plaguing coastal communities “king tides.” William Sweet, an oceanographer with the agency, told the Patriot Ledger that king tides — higher than normal tides that occur due to an alignment of the earth, sun and moon — have always been around, but they’ve only started to flood many locations in recent years. “We might as well call it what it is,” he told a reporter. “It’s sea level rise flooding.” The Patriot Ledger article by Jessica Trufant does an excellent job of explaining the sea level rise flooding problem and the threat it poses to coastal real estate.

Influential South Florida Newspaper Calls for Federal and State Leadership on Sea Level Rise

As South Florida and the Keys recover from a difficult season of king tide sea/ level rise flooding, the Sun Sentinel published an editorial earlier this month that listed the many challenges the region is already facing from flooding and the many ways federal and state leaders are failing to adequately address the problem.

Among the concerns are neighborhoods that were flooded for months during the fall because higher seas gave the floodwaters nowhere to drain, commercial flood insurance premiums jumping 18 percent a year in parts of the Keys that may put them completely out of business in five years, and threats to corals, birds and fish due to warmer ocean temperatures and acidification in a region that depends on the natural world for tourism.

The newspaper’s editors commended the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which is comprised of South Florida and Keys county governments and governing bodies overseeing over 100 cities and two Native American tribes in the region, for demanding action now to take on the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding. They also commended Gov. Ron DeSantis for sending his chief resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat, to the 11th annual climate summit held this fall in Key West, even if he had to cancel his appearance at the last minute due to “extenuating circumstances.” But they’re critical of Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio for making zero effort to attend or send representatives to help them address the problems. (Maybe they’ll overcome their climate change denialism when more of South Florida real estate is inundated.)

What’s clear from the editorial and out every-day experience in the region is that South Florida and the Keys need strong federal and state leadership and financial assistance to address sea level rise flooding NOW. Ignoring the threat rising flood waters pose to our way of life won’t make them go away. We’re at the front line of the battle against sea level rise, but other coastal communities in the U.S. are starting to wake up to the same siren.

New Jersey Could See Over 6 Feet of Sea Level Rise by 2100

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NDJEP) recently released a study that concludes seas will rise substantially if humans don’t reduce the amount of greenhouse being released into the atmosphere. The study, prepared by researchers at Rutgers University, says seas could rise from 2000 levels by up to 1.1 feet by 2030, 2.1 feet by 2050, and 6.3 feet by 2100. Garden State officials are using the report to guide them as they decide how to meet the challenges posed by sea level rise flooding.

“New Jersey has much to lose if we do not act quickly and decisively to adapt to the realities of climate change,” DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said in a news release. “This study illustrates the sobering reality that our coastal landscape will change drastically, and we must act with urgency to ensure the long-term viability of our coastal and waterfront communities. These projections now serve as important baselines for developing policy directions, including changes to land use regulation, that New Jersey must adopt to address these challenges.”

You can read more about the Rising Seas and Changing Storms study here.