NORFOLK – Hurricane season is halfway over, but in the past two weeks, talk about the natural disasters has dominated the national conversation.
Hurricane Harvey swept through Houston just over a week ago, devastating the city. Hurricane Irma, which strengthened to a Category 5 storm as of Tuesday morning, is barreling towards Florida. With its trajectory path unknown, the Southside is not yet in the clear.
Matthew Eby, CEO and founder of the developer First Street Foundation, said the online model uses the latest sea level rise data from both the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Using Google Maps with a flood map overlay, users can type in their home address and see flood predictions for hurricanes within seconds. It also shows users what the long term effects of sea level rise will do to their neighborhoods, with predictions modeling up to 15 years in the future.
According to the Flood IQ tool, if a hurricane of Harvey’s strength hit the Southside this season, large portions of Norfolk could be at least a few feet underwater. Change the year to 2032 and the results are alarming.
Though the city faces danger in the event of a severe storm, Eby said many people don’t understand how their homes could be impacted, even in the near future.
“Sea level rise is a very complex issue,” Eby said, “and the personal risk aspect just isn’t there.”
Eby said when creating the online tool, developers focused on two key states they felt were at greatest risk. Virginia made the cut.
Paul Olsen, a former Commander of the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Norfolk is the second fastest-sinking city in the country behind New Orleans. The city sees its fair share of tidal and coastal flooding already.
“As an engineer, that’s the thing that scares me the most,” Olsen said. “We have an issue where glaciers are melting and the land is rebounding from that waste.”
Olsen said the influx of water from melting glaciers is a large contributor to sea level rise, attributed to environmentally-driven problems like warmer ocean waters.
How much will that change in the next 15 years?
Quite a bit, Olsen said, as the rate of sea level rise is essentially doubling. Making matters worse, flooding has increased 250 percent just since 2012.
Previous studies showed that it took roughly 25 years for sea level to increase just over five inches – about the height of an iPhone. While it might not seem like much to the average citizen, Olsen said that time frame has drastically decreased.
“In the next 12 years, sea level rise will increase another five-and-a-half inches,” Olsen said.
According to the foundation, Norfolk has identified more than $1.2 billion in sea level rise related projects needed by 2022 or later. Nearly half of those funds are allotted to building floodwalls and bettering drainage along the Lafayette River. Other key areas of the city are along the Hague, Pretty Lake, Willoughby Spit and Ocean View..
In Virginia Beach, $514 million in projects have been identified, but focus areas were not defined.
Eby said the idea behind the tool wasn’t to create a sense of impending doom, but to show Southside residents what their futures could look like as sea level rise accelerates.
“Sea level rise is not immediate. It doesn’t happen overnight but slowly over time,” Eby said. “And now that it’s accelerating we have to address it and get people starting to invest.”
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