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Major cities most at risk of rising sea levels

  • Major cities most at risk of rising sea levels

    Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis group, ranks America’s policies as “critically insufficient” in keeping the rise of global temperatures under 2 degrees Celsius. That threshold is widely believed by the scientific community to be the tipping point for irreversible global calamities such as massive water and food shortages, catastrophic sea-level rise, and devastating spikes in disease—not to mention widespread extinctions and increased storm strengths. Despite this, the Trump administration continues to rescind federal climate policies and waive the urgency of global warming, while the Democratic National Committee (DNC) neglected to schedule a single climate-change debate for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Cable networks CNN and MSNBC scheduled climate forums and town halls for those candidates on Sept. 4 and 19-20, respectively.

    Of course, planetary shifts don't wait for administrative reform. A warming atmosphere and rising sea levels are already affecting extreme weather across America, from 2019's extreme summer heat waves to California forest fires to the intense flooding Hurricane Sandy wrought on New York and New Jersey. Sandy, in particular, was a landmark event: the 2012 storm caused more than 150 deaths and an estimated $72 billion in economic damages. Scientists predict that massive floods like those caused by Sandy will become commonplace in the next few decades, as rising sea levels exacerbate storms and high tides.

    To explore the places and people most at risk from higher seas, Stacker used data from Climate Central Coastal Flooding Report to rank the 30 major U.S. cities (with populations over 100,000) that will have the greatest number of residents in flood-prone areas by 2050. Based on the populations for each city determined in the 2010 U.S. Census, Climate Central researchers calculated the number of people out of those current populations living in 100-year floodplains defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as who will be living in those floodplains in 2050. The future projections are based on published sea-level rise projections and assume that carbon emissions will continue unrestricted (a scenario called Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5). FEMA defines a 100-year floodplain as an area with a 1% annual chance of flooding.

    Although Climate Central analyzed cities across the country, Florida sticks out as a flood-prone state. Out of the 30 cities on this list, 13 are in the Sunshine State, and eight of those cities rank in the top 10. Read on to find out which cities might be underwater within a few decades, and what those cities’ local leaders are (or aren’t) doing to address the risk.

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  • #30. Stamford, CT

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 7,260 (5.9% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 1,692 (1.4% of current population; rank #28)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 5,568 (329.1% increase; rank #4)
    - Current population (2010): 122,626

    Since the city was first settled in the 17th century, Stamford has faced flooding from Long Island Sound. Although the U.S. Army Corps constructed a hurricane protection barrier system around the harbor in the 1960s, the city is still at risk from heavy storms. Thirty-two students in 2018 had to be rescued from a stuck public school bus after torrential rain caused the streets to flood.

  • #29. Bridgeport, CT

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 7,424 (5.1% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 2,064 (1.4% of current population; rank #27)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 5,360 (259.7% increase; rank #5)
    - Current population (2010): 144,229

    Connecticut’s largest city is a historic seaport. It sits at the mouth of the Pequonnock River on Long Island Sound. In 2011, Hurricane Irene caused power outages and flooding across the city, with the storm surge entering and rising at a speed that one witness compared to a tsunami. City officials faced criticism from Bridgeport residents for failing to respond as storms have racked up millions in damages.

  • #28. Philadelphia, PA

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 8,457 (0.6% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 5,335 (0.3% of current population; rank #24)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 3,122 (58.5% increase; rank #14)
    - Current population (2010): 1.5 million

    Although Philadelphia is located further inland than many other metros on this list, its proximity to the Delaware River puts Pennsylvania’s largest city at risk from storm surges and rising tide levels. One large July 2019 storm caused flooding across the city and forecasted trials to come, according to David Murrell of Philadelphia Magazine. Murrell noted that, while the current record for high-tide flood days in Philly is 12, NOAA estimates that the figure could rise to 30 in 2030 and more than 100 by 2050.

  • #27. Newport News, VA

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 11,375 (6.3% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 5,204 (2.9% of current population; rank #25)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 6,171 (118.6% increase; rank #10)
    - Current population (2010): 180,659

    Newport News (not to be confused with the similarly named city in Rhode Island) is located on a peninsula, with the James River on one side and the Chesapeake Bay on the other. The city faces about $375,000 in annual flood damage, according to local news outlet the Daily Press. While officials and civil engineers in Newport News are more focused on the overall Hampton Roads region (which also includes Norfolk and Hampton, both of which have more low-lying areas), the city has implemented some flood protection measures, including water-level sensors and improved storm-water drainage.

  • #26. Mobile, AL

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 12,420 (6.4% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 9,987 (5.1% of current population; rank #22)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 2,433 (24.4% increase; rank #21)
    - Current population (2010): 195,111

    Located along the hurricane-friendly Gulf of Mexico, Mobile is Alabama’s third-largest city. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2017 updated flood maps for Mobile and Baldwin counties, extending flood zones in the city to include more than 10,000 more properties. City officials are using these maps to help more residents get flood insurance.

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  • #25. Clearwater, FL

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 13,995 (13.0% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 13,661 (12.7% of current population; rank #21)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 334 (2.4% increase; rank #30)
    - Current population (2010): 107,685

    Clearwater is one of the largest cities along Florida’s “Nature Coast,” an unofficial name for the state’s eight counties along the Gulf of Mexico. The city has seen its fair share of flooding already: In the summer of 2012, Tropical Storm Debby flooded coastal areas to the point that Clearwater Beach was “basically underwater.” FEMA updated flood zones for Pinellas County, where Clearwater is located, in June 2018.

  • #24. Savannah, GA

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 14,954 (11.0% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 6,590 (4.8% of current population; rank #23)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 8,364 (126.9% increase; rank #9)
    - Current population (2010): 136,286

    Savannah faced a slew of storms in the last decade, including Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017. After Hurricane Matthew, John D. Sutter of CNN wrote that the storm “looks a lot like the future of climate change.” While there was not sufficient data to conclusively name Matthew a consequence of a warming planet, tropical hurricanes are expected to become more intense and frequent by 2100.

  • #23. Newark, NJ

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 15,559 (5.6% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 1,593 (0.6% of current population; rank #29)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 13,966 (876.7% increase; rank #3)
    - Current population (2010): 277,140

    Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey so severely in fall 2012 that “Effects of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey” merited a separate Wikipedia page with almost 100 sources. In Newark, the storm caused mass flight delays, train shutdowns, power outages, and sewage overflow into the Passaic River. While the local government has helped residents recover from Sandy, researchers warn that New Jersey may not be ready for future flooding.

  • #22. Corpus Christi, TX

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 19,647 (6.4% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 15,784 (5.2% of current population; rank #20)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 3,863 (24.5% increase; rank #20)
    - Current population (2010): 305,184

    North Beach, a popular tourist location on the north side of the Corpus Christi bridge, is also a popular spot for floodwaters. The streets in this area are barely above sea level, and the beach floods quickly during storms. During summer 2019, team of public officials and other stakeholders proposed a 1.2-mile canal that could redirect runoff and make North Beach safer. However, many investigations and debates will be necessary before this public works project becomes a reality.

  • #21. Cambridge, MA

    - Population in 100-year flood zones by 2050: 24,015 (22.8% of current population)
    - Population currently in 100-year flood zones: 186 (0.2% of current population; rank #30)
    - Change in population exposed, 2015 to 2050: 23,829 (12,811.3% increase; rank #1)
    - Current population (2010): 105,162

    How many engineers does it take to save Cambridge from flooding? Nearby Boston has seen record flooding in recent years, due to heavy rain in the summer and heavy snow in the winter. Cambridge city officials are currently developing a “practical guide for climate change preparedness,” and residents can use a flood viewer tool to learn about their potential risks.

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