Strong El Nino Might Mean Increased Sea Levels and Storm Surges

A new study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) along East Coast communities in America has found that they may be at risk to higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges in future El Niño years.

November 2009's Mid-Atlantic Nor'easter brought damage to the Hampton Roads, Va. area, to include a barge that grounded onto Virginia Beach.

The study, which was led by Bill Sweet, Ph. D. from NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services and prompted by an unusual number of destructive storm surges along the East Coast during the 2009-2010 El Niño winter, looked at water levels and storm surge events during October to April for the past five decades at four representative sites; Boston, Atlantic City, N.J., Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C.

They found that, during strong El Niño years from 1961 to 2010, these coastal areas suffered nearly three times the average number of storm surge events, which was defined as those of one foot or greater. They also found a third of a foot elevation in mean sea level above predicted conditions at the same time and place.

“High-water events are already a concern for coastal communities. Studies like this may better prepare local officials who plan for or respond to conditions that may impact their communities,” said Sweet. “For instance, city planners may consider reinforcing the primary dunes to mitigate for erosion at their beaches and protecting vulnerable structures like city docks by October during a strong El Niño year.”

The study continues to build on previous ocean-atmospheric research which has already found that during El Niño years, No’easter wind storms are more frequent along the East Coast.

“This research furthers our understanding of the interconnections between the ocean and atmosphere, which are so important in the Earth’s climate system, and points to ways this greater understanding can be used to help coastal communities prepare for the winter season,” said Keith L. Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

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