Beware the Tides of March

Blue Sky Flooding

US Highway 80, only access to Tybee Island, Georgia, underwater on October 27. It was the worst flood since a Category 2 hurricane in 1935. No rain, no wind, just an implacably rising sea.

When I first published Brace for Impact, six years ago, I did not give climate change its own chapter. I thought it was a slow-moving threat multiplier, that would exacerbate the effects of more immediate damage done by by polluters, industrial agriculture, peak oil and the like. Boy, has that changed. The onslaughts of drought, heat, savage storms and sea level rise have accelerated beyond the expectations of scientists just a few years ago, and as we come around the turn to the home stretch, climate change is neck and neck with the various other existential threats to the industrial age. The finish line, of course, being the place where we are all finished.

Nowhere are these events conspiring to accelerate more than along the East Coast of the United States. Here, multiple feedback mechanisms — accelerators that were not even identified until recently — along with a geological trend not previously thought to be connected are vexing the Atlantic Ocean from all sides until all it wants to do is attack us.

On October 27, high tide at Charleston South Carolina ran 8.67 feet above mean low water, the highest tide since Hurricane Hugo came ashore there in 1989. And Savannah Georgia saw 10.43 feet. Two days later high-tide flooding reached into substantial areas around Boston Harbor. And all of these high tides occurred in perfect weather.

A number of factors have made the East Coast ground zero (or should we say water zero?) for sea level rise. Perhaps the biggest is the flood of cold, fresh water into the North Atlantic from the melting glaciers on Greenland, whose deterioration has been accelerated by a whole set of unanticipated feedback loops. By changing the salinity and temperature of a large chunk of the ocean, that meltwater has contributed to a slowing of the great rivers that circulate through the ocean, such as the Gulf Stream, and among other things moderate the climate of Europe. Another thing the Gulf Stream does, as  it flows northward along our coast, is to whisk away water that otherwise tends to pile up against the shore, contributing to sea level rise.

Meanwhile, another circulatory change, this one in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, is having another effect. This one is seasonal. It is popularly known as El Nino, and is blamed for more bad things than Obama, but is in fact a normal, long-lived set of recurring circumstances that are as much effects as causes of atmospheric events. One of the ancillary events, that occur because of the changes in the Pacific collectively known as El Nino, are the setup of prevailing northeasterly winds over the Atlantic off America. As long as El Nino lasts, these winds help pile up sea water against the coast.

Add to this the fact that the land along much of the East Coast is sinking, a continuing geological reaction to the end of the last Ice Age. The massive weight of the glaciers inland has borne down the tectonic plate on which the continent rests, bulging upward the places along the margins of the glaciers. When the ice melted the inland areas started rebounding upward, the coastal areas began to sink back to there they had been. The process continues.

What has been called “nuisance” tidal flooding, or “blue sky” flooding, has increased between 300 and 900 percent in East Coast cities since the 1960s.   And according to a new set of calculations from NOAA, this winter and spring it’s going to get a lot worse. So if you live on the East Coast, beware the tides of March.


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8 Responses to Beware the Tides of March

  1. I was always wondering which of the horsemen of the apocalypse would ride in first, resource depletion, economic collapse, war, pestilence or climate change. I would not have bet on climate change, but here it is, coming up fast from behind and looking to take the lead.

  2. Tumbleweed says:

    I find earth changes fascinating and follow them as a hobby. So I’ve read many explanations for the changes you mentioned in this article, but your explanations are by far the best and clearest! They put most of the others in the BS category. Thank you!

  3. Tom says:

    Great post Mr. Lewis, and timely as ever. By this time next year we should be in a little better position to see how bad things are becoming along the exponential curve of climate change. Not that there’s a damn thing we can do about any of it, but we’ll have front row seats for the coming attractions.

    ‘So [we] got that goin’ for us . . .which is nice.’ [Caddyshack paraphrase]

    i like “ground zero” because it suggests zero ground – as in “it’s under water now!”

    We still haven’t recovered from Sandy and now we have inundations on perfectly fine days! What’s this world comin’ to?

    Another thing sneaking up on us is hydrogen sulfide – the ol’ nemesis of life back in previous extinction events. It’s heavier than air and thus seeks low points like valleys, sewer systems, underground rail systems and basements (and natural water sources like lakes and ponds). There have been many manhole (and other electrical infrastructure) explosions , (vacant and occupied) home explosions, (parked and running) car, truck, bus, fire-engine, garbage truck, police car,, locomotive, golf cart, boat, and airplane fires, not to mention scrap metal, junk yard, land fill and other fires, also people just keeling over for no apparent reason, in the recent past to the present. No one in the main stream media is talking about this, probably because the authorities don’t want to “panic the herd.”

    A good source to check DAILY for the on-going list of these types of incidents is

    Here are a few from 2 days ago (with actual news stories at the site)

    2015-11-08 – Underground electrical fire evacuates movie theater and part of mall in coastal Los Angeles (California)

    2015-11-08 – Battery recycling plant hit by fire, building destroyed, in Ellwood City (Pennsylvania)

    2015-11-08 – Recycling center hit by mulch fire on Marine Way in Irvine (California)

    2015-11-08 – Cargo ship ‘Soya Maru’ hit by scrap metal fire, crew abandons ship, near coastal Matsuyama (Japan)

    2015-11-08 – Boat bursts into flame while parked at home in coastal Bluff (New Zealand)

    2015-11-08 – Boat bursts into flame, burns and sinks, in the Mediterranean Sea near Malta

    Hang in there everyone!

  4. Rodster says:

    While climate change is a problem that we are dealing with now and in the future we can’t discount the continued destruction of our biosphere and ecosystems at the hands of geoengineering. It’s only making an already bad situation worse.

  5. Tom says:

    There’s a lot of knock-on effects of flooding. To name a few, inundated homes face mold troubles that entail expensive remediation; water treatment systems are often compromised so that raw sewage mixes with the flood and spreads e coli everywhere; roads are often undermined and sinkholes abound after flooding; crops are destroyed or contaminated beyond use; mud and debris are dispersed over a wide area, requiring clean up; economic losses pile on top of environmental troubles; diseases like cholera and dysentery often result after severe flooding.

    So besides the ocean reclaiming coastline, the remaining areas may become uninhabitable unless expensive and long term maintenance and or rebuilding occurs – which will only delay the problem for an undetermined period of time (until the next inundation).

    We’re in deep trouble on a lot of fronts.

  6. Tom says:

    I’d like to hear your opinion about this short piece, Mr. Lewis.

    Something is going on. Something nuclear.

    [see 4 min. video too]

  7. Mike Kay says:

    It can be difficult to remember that our planet is alive, and like all living beings, exists in dynamic state. We find comfort in the idea of a static world, a sense of permanence beyond ourselves, yet it is only in dynamic situations where we can learn and deepen.
    Humanity, especially those who are fond of manipulating circumstances, other people, and whatever else to their myopic advantage, often imagine that if they defer the price of their actions to some nebulous future, they win. Never can it occur to them that there is a larger scope for their actions, and in this scope is the certainty that all they have done will be tagged right on their posteriors.
    If we study history, we cannot avoid being struck by the effort expended to alter the world towards an accordance with desire, and the astonishing impermanence of this process.
    Doubtless most assume that current conditions are a sort of baseline, that the society is like they imagine our planet, somehow permanent. This assumption is in deep error.
    Everything is going to be tested, everything is going to change. Change is the constant. Will this change be correctly navigated? What will it take to not only survive, but to thrive as this latest change storms happily ahead?
    These are the type of questions we must ask ourselves, without waiting for someone else to insert their responses.

  8. Oelsen says:

    I wanted to post to the precedent, but there was no comment possible. So I do it here.

    I think the author confused “daytime TV” with big, culture defining programs. 24, Lost, CSI and now Homeland are culture defining, while daytime TV is mostly time consuming, everyday-behavior manipulation. That is important.

    Look at the producers of Homeland:

    a series harboring multiple appearances of subjects I find in this blog, e.g. climate refugees, drought. It is there. Just not important to the plot. And most producers are old enough to be boomers…

    Millennials also buy games on steam or other game reseller networks which take days to finish, some even weeks of pertinacious attempts to solve riddles and finish campaigns. It became a multibillion dollar market, so it is NOT a fringe phenomenon.

    Just about any under 40 I know who lives with a higher education (teehee) and knows about the systematic problems checked out. Firstly, because they don’t want to be party poopers, but second also because they can’t solve it. Sometimes they lack certain informations or have industry funded opinions, but generally, they don’t see a solution. Earning money, spending it, living and hopefully be still a generation with a pension is the only possible way to shape our own life.

    Second, and this is a beef I have here with the author: The elders weren’t holder of culture. Maybe in fundi-idiot Murrica, but not elsewhere. China and Europe developed strong (cultural) institutions which worked almost independently of the composition and cohorts of those passing down the knowledge. Those institutions had and have functions. If the elders don’t have a function anymore, they are superfluous, as bad as that sounds. It is just like a third arm. You don’t need it, evolution takes care of it. Our elders worked for 40 to 50 years on the same job and then refused to learn about the new media. And now they want it take away. They got what they wanted: A stale, boring, inflexible world. They killed all old cultural institutions, but did not build up new. Time will fix this. Time will also fix the disinterest of that old generation concerning how money works, how anything works. They thought industrial capitalist lifelong work will selfcorrect and selfsustain and ignored for about the last 40 years any clear thought out critiques of all that and voted e.g. for neoliberal bullshit.

    Now why do you expect the Millenials, the “last of its kind” of a generation to do anything about it? The coming turbulences will flatten anything we would become, build or invent, we could as well just flatten and finish off the infrastructure the boomers did not maintain for us.

    Nach uns die Sintflut.