October 13, 2016
King tides bring flooding to coastal South Florida neighborhoods
Ryan Van Velzer
South Florida is feeling the effects of this year's highest tides, which are expected to peak early next week and flood low-lying coastal areas.
Minor flooding already spilled onto the streets Thursday along Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, State Road A1A in Dania Beach and in other areas, including Delray Beachand Hollywood.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials predict the tides will increase over the weekend with tidal flooding peaking Saturday and Sunday.
The rising tides likely will affect areas prone to flooding across Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
The annual high tides, also called "king tides," are compounded this year as increased swell from Hurricane Nicole has raised water levels a foot higher than normal, said William Sweet, oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
While higher-than-normal tides happen regularly throughout the year, king tides usually arrive in fall when sea levels are typically higher due to rising ocean temperatures and a slowing of the Gulf Stream. That, matched with an alignment of the sun and moon, creates a stronger gravitational pull that together, cause the highest tides of the year.
The flooding can gurgle from storm drains, spill over the Intracoastal Waterway and climb above sea walls, inching toward homes.
David Frohman, of Delray Beach, said he started to see flooding Wednesday night. He has put his furniture on blocks and placed sandbags around his home, which sits right across from the water. "We had flooding a couple years ago, it didn't come through the front doors, it came up through the floors," he said. "My next-door neighbor had it come in his laundry room last night."
The inundation may lead to road closures and could increase the risk of rip currents.
Fort Lauderdale officials are asking residents to avoid driving through or touching floodwater to avoid pollutants and vehicle damage, according to a press release. The city plans to clear storm drains, remove standing water and use sand berms to limit flood damage.
Sweet, the oceanographer, called the king tides a "glimpse into the future" as rising global sea levels contribute to increased coastal flooding.
"They are becoming more impacting per year because of sea-level rise," he said. "The situation is only going to get worse and it's going to worse rather quickly."
South Florida has seen a sea level rise of about a fifth of an inch over the last two decades, an amount slightly higher than the global average, Sweet said.
"It's not a year 2100 problem. Sea-level-rise impacts are happening now," he said.
Coastal cities are preparing for long-term, sea-level rise by increasing the height of sea walls and adding tidal valves to storm drains that prevent ocean water from backing into them.
Fort Lauderdale has installed more than 100 valves in affected neighborhoods, while Hollywood recently completed a $1.1 million project to add more than 30 valves in the North and South Lakes areas, said Joann Hussey, city spokeswoman.
"It's been a godsend, to be honest with you. Flooding was an issue in Hollywood in the low-lying coastal areas. That's why the city invested $1.1 million to address the issue," she said.
Delray Beach city officials have added similar protections for low-lying areas that have started to see flooding over the last six or seven years, said Ana Puszkin-Chevlin, Delray Beach sustainability officer.
Last year, king tides overflowed onto the docks in the city marina and in Veterans Park, causing damage, she said. The flooding has led officials to consider how the city's infrastructure can adapt to sea-level rise.
"This is not doom and gloom. We have science, we have data and we have time to react. In a way, we have a great opportunity to do the right thing," Puszkin-Chevlin said.