Key Greenhouse Gas Reaches Level Not Seen Since Sea Levels Were 16 to 82 Feet Higher Than Today

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego reported today that carbon dioxide — a key greenhouse gas fueling global warming — has reached levels not seen for millions of years. This has dire consequences for people who own real estate in coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise flooding.

Measurements taken at Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory in Hawaii peaked at 421 parts per million in May. The last time the level was that high over 4 million years ago sea levels were 16 to 82 feet higher than they are today. The new reading is 1.8 parts per million over 2021. Before the Industrial Revolution got underway in the 1800s, carbon dioxide levels were around 280 parts per million, where they’d been for nearly 6,000 years of human civilization.

Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for an extended period of time. The NOAA report not only stresses the need for humans to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it also sounds the alarm for people who own or are considering buying coastal real estate in areas that are now experiencing or at-risk of experiencing sea level rise flooding.

NOAA’s latest report on sea level rise predicted an average of about 2 feet of sea level rise between now and the end of the century based on current greenhouse gas emissions. If they’re not reduced, that figure rises to up to 7 feet of sea level rise. Some areas are forecast to experience greater or lesser amounts of sea level rise than others due to land elevation, land subsidence, ocean currents and other local conditions.

It’s important to note here that when we talk about up to 7 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, we’re talking about a gradual but accelerating rise in ocean level. This will put more and more coastal real estate at risk of flooding in the years and decades to come before the end of the century.

“The science is irrefutable: humans are altering our climate in ways that our economy and our infrastructure must adapt to,” said NOAA Administrator Risk Spinrad, Ph.D, in an article on the agency’s website. “We can see the impacts of climate change around us every day. The relentless increase of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa is a star reminder that we need to take urgent, serious steps to become a more Climate Ready Nation.”

The bottom line is to deny or ignore climate change and continue to burn fossil fuels at the current or an even greater rate is to deny basic science. We all need to do what we can to reduce the consumption of coal, oil and natural gas to protect lives, property and, quite frankly, the future of humanity.

“Above-Normal” Hurricane Season Forecast Means Coastal Real Estate Owners and Buyers Need to Consider Insurance Options NOW

An ongoing La Nina and above-average Atlantic Ocean water temperatures are leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to forecast an above-normal hurricane season. “NOAA is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher), according to an agency news release.

With this extreme threat level, owners of coastal real estate and even those well inland in the Eastern U.S. and Hawaii who could be impacted by flood and wind damage from a degrading storm, need to review their insurance coverage. Considering scientists are reporting that global warming and sea level rise are super-charging hurricanes and tropical storms, people who own real estate in at-risk regions should put this on the top of their to-do lists.

Lenders require homeowners with mortgages to purchase basic dwelling coverage that covers the cost of repairs to a damaged home. In areas vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, lenders may require special windstorm and flood insurance.

Considering that FEMA’s flood maps are notoriously outdated and homes well outside the designated flood zones have been damaged by flood waters in past storms, it’s important for homeowners in areas with even a seemingly remote chance of getting hit by floods to consider purchasing coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. For example, in August 2017, thousands of homes outside the FEMA-designated primary flood zone flooded when Hurricane Harvey rolled over the Houston area.

With insurance costs skyrocketing in many coastal areas due to increased claims from past hurricanes and storms, fraud and other reasons, some homeowners are going without insurance. They tend to fall in two camps those who are gambling that their properties will not get hit by a hurricane or tropical storm and those who believe they have enough reserve funds to cover the cost of repairs if they do.

These homeowners need to be aware that waiting until a storm is likely headed their way to purchase insurance won’t work. Flood insurance purchased under the National Flood Insurance Program won’t actually kick in until 30 days after a policy is purchased. In addition, if a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning is issued in a 16,000 square mile box around Florida, the state’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation and most private insurance companies will not accept applications for new coverage. Insurers in other states may have their own last-minute purchase limitations. There’s also a risk that providers may not be able to process applications made before a storm in a timely manner.

When property owners are reviewing their insurance policies, they should also revisit their coverage amounts. With inflation, even $250,000 in coverage won’t provide as much repair and rebuilding purchasing power as it used to. They should also double-check their deductibles to make sure they’re still in line with their financial resources.

Evaluating homeowners, flood and wind insurance can be drudge work under the best of circumstances. However, with the high risk of storms and recent years of climate change super-charged storms wreaking record destruction on coastal real estate and points far inland, not doing your homework can lead to serious negative consequences should a storm hit your property.

New CO2 Emissions Record is Bad News for Sea Level Rise and Real Estate

A few weeks ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a startling report that predicted the US coastline would see on average a foot and up to 18 inches of sea level rise by 2050. The agency said the next 50 years of potential sea level rise after that will be heavily influenced by the amount of fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — that’s burned, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and causing it to continue warming up. This week, the long-term sea level rise outlook took a turn for the worse when a report was released that said the world reached a record for CO2 emissions in 2021.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), an autonomous intergovernmental organization that helps countries shape energy policies, analyzed public and private energy and economic data to reach the conclusion that “global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 6% in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes, their highest ever level”. The IEA blamed the increase in CO2 emissions on the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis and an increased reliance on coal when the price of natural gas spiked.

The IEA said in a press release that the “world must now ensure that the global rebound in emissions in 2021 was a one-off and that an accelerated energy transition contributes to global energy security”.

The recent NOAA report explained why reducing, not increasing, emissions is critically important to coastal communities. The report said: “About 2 feet (0.6 meters) of sea level rise along the U.S. coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions to date. Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5-5 feet (0.5-1.5 meters) of rise for a total of 3.5-7 feet (1.1 – 2.1 meters) by the end of this century.”

It’s important to note here that the government researchers admitted that they’re still not exactly certain what impact sudden changes in glacial ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica could have on sea level rise in the decades to come. An ice shelf collapse that results in a sudden release of land based-glaciers into the ocean in Antarctica or a rapid acceleration in the melting of land-based snow and ice in Greenland could lead to a faster than predicted increase in sea level rise.

The bottom line here is that if humans don’t radically cut back on the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, all of the sea level rise predictions could turn out to be dangerously conservative. The first one foot of human-driven sea level rise is costing coastal communities — and residential and commercial real estate owners — billions of dollars to repair flood damage and prevent additional damage. The next foot of sea level rise in the next 30 years will certainly compound the problem. Add more on top of that and a lot of coastal real estate will become uninhabitable.

What Does a Foot or More of Predicted Sea Level Rise Mean in Real Real Estate Terms?

The foot or more of sea level rise government scientists recently predicted coastal cities and towns will see by 2050 doesn’t sound like much, especially if you live in a community that isn’t being impacted by the first foot of sea level rise that’s accumulated in the last hundred years. To people who own real estate located in areas that are now experiencing sea level rise flooding and those in the red zone targeted by the next foot, it’s a huge deal. I live in South Florida, and I’m witnessing firsthand what sea level rise flooding can do to a coastal community.

The Union of Concerned scientists predicted that an additional foot of sea level rise will put 140,000 homes at risk of flooding every other week. This means coastal cities and towns are going to have to step up their efforts to fend off floodwaters by, among other things, building higher seawalls, installing pump systems, elevating roads and other critical infrastructure, expanding flood-water absorbing wetlands, and replenishing eroded beaches.

Private real estate owners, too, are going to have to be more diligent in taking steps to protect their properties. More and more of them are going to have to install, reinforce or heighten seawalls and elevate docks, structures and entire homes. In condo communities, owners face the specter of higher association fees and special assessments to cover the cost of protecting common areas and buildings from flooding.

In cases where sea level rise floodwaters cannot be held back, private property owners are going to face a host of problems. As owners of real estate located in neighborhoods that flood now can attest, typically the first sign of sea level rise is seawater collecting on roadways or rising up out of storm drains that would normally drain into the ocean, a harbor or other waterway. Sounds like a minor problem, until you have to park blocks away from your home and wade through the water to reach your front door. Driving through seawater is out of the question. The salt is extremely corrosive to vehicles.

The next step in the typical sea level rise flooding progression is floodwater collecting on a property, where it can rend septic systems inoperable, pollute freshwater wells, and damage landscaping and exterior structures. In cases where the seawater enters a home, the costs can be devastating. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program website has a flood damage calculator that estimates an inch of water alone can cause nearly $27,000 damage to a 2,500 home. A foot of floodwater can cost over $72,000 to repair.

In extreme cases, local governments are determining that it’s no longer cost-effective to maintain and rebuild roads and critical infrastructure to serve properties that are repeatedly inundated. Officials are insisting on buyouts, where they pay an owner fair market value to abandon their homes. It’s important to note that buyouts are expensive and only possible where federal and state funding is available. It’s uncertain how long the government will be able to afford buyouts. If the funding dries up, real estate owners could be left with properties that regularly flood, aren’t insurable, and are impossible to sell.

The immediate coastline isn’t the only place at risk from sea level rise. In areas like South Florida that are built on porous limestone or Honolulu that are built on porous volcanic rock, higher seas can push seawater inland underground. The dense seawater, in turn, can force the fresh water table upward toward the surface where it saturates soils. This can create three problems: 1) Unable to absorb rainwater, the saturated soils can cause surface flooding; 2) Septic systems that rely on dry soil to filter impurities can become inoperable when saturated soils can’t handle any more water; and 3) Fresh water well systems can become polluted by saltwater making them unusable.

Beyond the physical problems floodwater presents to coastal communities, private property owners also have to keep an eye on trends in the property tax, insurance and mortgage sectors. Coastal communities are fighting for federal and state funding to pay for sea level rise control projects. When the money runs short, local taxpayers will have to cover the bill for flood prevention projects.

The National Flood Insurance Program is already in the process of making sure that owners of properties most at-risk of flooding pay higher premiums. And, after the tragic condo building collapse last summer in Surfside, Florida, mortgage backers Fannie May and Freddie Mac are now forcing condo associations to answer detailed questions about building maintenance and the level of reserve funds available to cover routine maintenance and repairs. In instances where buildings are deemed to be poorly maintained, short on cash, or unsafe, lenders will be barred from issuing mortgages. This new policy is already wreaking havoc in the South Florida condo market, where closings are being delayed due to the stringent requirements. The threat is compounded by the fact that even cash buyers can be forced to show that they will be able to get a mortgage if they don’t have enough resources to cover the cost of a condo.

With all of these factors in play, it’s clear that the prospect of another foot of sea level rise is something that real estate owners and buyers can no longer afford to shrug off and ignore. Every additional inch of water that accumulates between now and 2050 is going to compound the challenges faced by coastal communities. Due diligence — staying up to date on the latest developments and responding appropriately — is the only way to protect real estate investments.

140,000 US Homes At-Risk as Scientists Predict Another Foot of Sea Level Rise Over the Next 30 Years

Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report today that predicted up to a foot of sea level rise by 2050. That’s equal to all the sea level rise that has occurred over the last century.

Researchers at NOAA and a half dozen other federal agencies relied on a combination of data from tide gauges, satellite observations, and climate modeling to reach their conclusion. “The new data on sea rise is the latest reconfirmation that our climate crisis — as the President has said — is blinking code red,” Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor, said in a news release posted on the NOAA website. “We must redouble our efforts to cut the greenhouse gases that cause climate change while, at the same time, help our coastal communities become more resilient in the face of rising seas.”

The NOAA report says at least two feet of sea level rise is likely by the end of this century. Other studies say we could see as much as eight feet if not enough is done to curtail the burning of greenhouse-gas-producing coal, oil and natural gas.

“By 2050, moderate flooding — which is typically disruptive and damaging by today’s weather, sea level and infrastructure standards — is expected to occur more than 10 times as often as it does today,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA National Ocean Service Director, in the news release. “These numbers mean a change from a single event every 2-5 years to multiple events each year, in some places.”

Kristina Dahl, a climate scientists with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Washington Post that 140,000 homes would be put at risk of flooding every other week on average if the NOAA prediction comes true.

Considering that many coastal communities are already spending millions of dollars to combat regular bouts of sea level rise flooding — even in the absence of coastal storms — the NOAA report should act as a call to arms for cities and towns not yet engaged in fighting rising waters. Among the risks for coastal real estate owners is higher taxes — as governments seek ways to fund projects to prevent sea level rise flooding — higher flood insurance premiums, and higher maintenance costs if their properties are inundated by sea water. Condo owners could also face costly special assessments to flood-proof their properties.

Another threat to real estate owners is the possibility that insurers will stop writing policies in flood-stricken areas. Mortgage providers, too might stop providing loans for properties that can’t be insured and that might not be functional for the full term of a 30-year mortgage.

15 U.S. Communities Set High Tide Flooding Records Due To Sea Level Rise

“Sea level rise flooding of U.S. coastlines is happening now, and it is becoming more frequent each year.” That warning is the opening sentence of a new U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report titled “2019 State of U.S. High Tide Flooding with a 2020 Outlook”.

Agency scientists report that in 2019 fifteen communities, including Miami, Charleston, and Savannah, set records for the number of days that they experienced so-called “sunny day” flooding that isn’t related to rain storms or storm surge. From May through April, East Point, a city near Houston, TX, reported 64 days of high-tide flooding.

According to the report, the situation is going to get much, much worse as sea levels continue to rise in the coming decades. In some cases, it will reach the point that the high tides now bringing “nuisance” flooding will one day be considered the normal high tide.

It’s important to note that NOAA only measures high-tide flooding at 89 sites, so there may be many more communities experiencing regular sea level rise flooding on an increasing basis that aren’t included in the agency’s findings. The experts list New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington among the communities that could see 100 days a year of high-tide flooding by 2050.

Of special interest to real estate owners, the report mentions that the bouts of sea level rise-driven flooding are already “damaging to infrastructure and cause other economic impacts (transportation delays, businesses closed, tourism impacts, etc.) in coastal communities”. As we’ve seen, coastal cities and towns are already scrambling to find hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for projects — such as sea walls, pumps and the raising of roads and water and sewer pipes — to deal with sea level rise flooding. With federal funds hard to come by, the burden of paying for the much-needed projects will likely fall on taxpayers. Owners and buyers need to stay informed about this pressing problem to protect their financial futures.

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