P!Noverview: Rising Seas and Raging Storms

P!Noverview: Rising Seas and Raging Storms
Anna Schwab of the Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters gives an overview of the climate change-severe storm link and shares information about an upcoming study

According to the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there is direct and unequivocal evidence that global warming and climate change are occurring, that this warming effect is causing seawater to expand and glaciers and polar caps to melt, and that these effects are contributing directly to sea level rise.

While all areas of the earth are progressively affected by global warming, coastal zones are particularly vulnerable to climate variability. These communities will experience many of the consequences of the long-term climate change. One of the most devastating impacts, however, is in the short-term, namely- increased vulnerability to coastal storms.

Evidence indicates that tropical storms are increasing in intensity, subjecting coastal areas to more frequent, damaging hurricanes and other coastal hazards. As the intensity of tropical storms increases, the potential for higher wind speeds and elevated flood levels also increases. Among the most destructive perils is storm surge. As sea levels rise, storm surges will generate from an elevated base of water, causing even stronger wave action when storms make landfall. Increased rates of coastal erosion (also caused by sea level rise) will exacerbate vulnerability to storms, as natural barriers formed by beaches and dunes are weakened and removed.

The North Carolina Sea Level Rise Risk Management Study

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identified North Carolina as one of three states with significant vulnerability to sea level rise. In response, a 2009 federal act provided funding to the state to perform a risk assessment and mitigation demonstration of potential impacts of sea level rise in North Carolina, associated with long-term climate change. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will use the study results to assess the long-term financial implications of climate change on natural disasters. FEMA will share information from the study with other states to inform their climate change mitigation efforts.

The risk management study is a collaboration of state and federal agencies, universities, research institutes, stakeholder associations, and the private sector with a vested interest in the potential impacts of sea level rise and associated increased flooding in the state of North Carolina. The Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is playing a major role in the development of study methodology, conducting research, and formulating recommendations for action.

In addition to identifying the hazards and risks associated with sea level rise, the study includes the creation of mitigation measures, beginning with an assessment of institutional capabilities to confront climate change and sea level rise.

Once the risk assessment and capability findings are gathered, they will be used to help shape the identification of hazard mitigation and adaptation strategies. In general, mitigation/adaptation strategies will be framed across the following dimensions:

  1. Prevention: planning, zoning and subdivision regulations, open space preservation, floodplain regulations, storm-water management, drainage system maintenance, capital improvements programming, shoreline setbacks;
  2. Property Protection: relocation, acquisition, elevation, critical facilities protection, insurance, retrofitting of hazard-prone structures;
  3. Natural Resource Protection: floodplain protection, beach and dune preservation, riparian buffers, conservation easements, erosion and sediment control, wetland preservation, slope stabilization;
  4. Structural Projects: reservoirs, seawalls, levees, channel modifications, beach nourishment;
  5. Public Information: outreach projects, hazard map information, real estate hazard disclosure, warning systems, library materials, hazard expos.

The study will conclude with a final report describing the identified hazards and risks, in addition to mapping products. A study template, data requirements, and guidance will be developed to assist future studies in other locations. A GIS analytical toolset may also be developed. Preferred mitigation and adaptation options will be identified and discussed with guidance on how they would apply to other environments.

**Excerpted from an article by Anna K. Schwab that appeared in Carolina Planning, Vol. 32, no. 2 (Summer 2007). Carolina Planning is a student-run publication of the Department of City and Regional Planning, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.