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Managing for Climate Change’s 'Triple Threat': The Intersection of Precipitation, Storm Surges, and Rising Tides

Posted by suzie | 10 July 2018 | stormwater, data, rainfall, climate, change, precipitation, storms, tides

As the climate changes, coastal regions are among the hardest hit. Warmer temperatures spur synergistic effects that can interact to cause catastrophic damage. Every region of the country is expected to see changes in storm frequency and intensity. Coastal regions have the added threat of rising baseline sea levels, which can combine with storm events to form increasingly intense storm surges. For perspective, coastal flooding rates among U.S. cities are now ten times higher than they were in the 1950s.

Given the series of recent storm-related public disasters (Sandy, Maria, and Harvey for starters), environmental managers in coastal regions know that we can no longer afford a “wait and see” approach. Plans must be adapted, and system upgrades must be made now. A recent article in the Sun Sentinel called sea level rise the defining issue of the century- noting that their system is already unable to handle the excess water- even on days without rain:

Engineers and designers across the country are working on innovative solutions. In Miami, FL a proposed street re-design includes native plants, a permeable levee, and an impermeable seawall; in Charleston, SC the board of architectural management has begun lifting historic houses to guard them against rising seas, and in Delaware funds have just been distributed for massive permeable pavement projects to help absorb additional flood and rain waters due to “a combination of sea level and more and more intense storms”. These are just a few examples of projects that are becoming common place in coastal regions.

Collecting data specific to the intersection of precipitation, sea level, and storm surge is key to understanding the issue and implementing sustainable abatement strategies. The city of Virginia Beach is taking this very seriously. Last year their Public Utility department commissioned a study into the increased risks of joint storm and tidal events. Their analysis concluded that 50% of storms occurred when tide levels were higher than mean higher high water- indicating that design standards need to be updated in order to accommodate larger volumes. The study cited a lack of monitoring data as a limitation. Another study conducted in the San Francisco Bay region concluded that rising sea levels will reduce the current infrastructure’s ability to collect, convey, and capture stormwater. As in Virginia, a lack of monitoring data was also a constraint:

As it stands, this data is hard to come by. Due to logistical and economic restraints, most stormwater and sea level planning information currently available comes from models, which, while helpful require actual monitoring data to be validated. Most of the actual data we have comes post-event (ex. flood assessments). To add to this, many professionals find themselves pulled together by these extreme events (meteorologists, oceanographers, public works employees to name a few) have not traditionally been in the same offices, so sharing information in a way that is easy to interpret across technical fields presents a challenge. Addressing this gap is the core mission of StormSensor™. We know that no matter how innovative the project- it cannot be effectively planned or evaluated at the scale needed without accurate monitoring data. StormSensor has developed sensors that are small and inexpensive enough to be deployed system-wide. Our sensors, called Scutes™, measure water level, velocity, and temperature. All sensors can be linked via our Terrapin™ network which is able to bring you real time data via a desktop or mobile dashboard. Our included analytics packages come tailored to your needs and can track precipitation, tides, storm surges, stormwater, CSOs, or any combination thereof. Contact us if you’re interested in collecting meaningful storm and climate tracking data for your region.

About The Author

Suzie Housley - Stormwater Scientist

Suzie sees her role in the stormwater world as a “go between” the technical and the general communities. She uses her years of experience to decipher scientific studies and government policies to communicate a practical message.

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Seattle, Washington 98102

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