STORM WATCH: Coastal Floods reached historic levels in 2015

Highway 80

CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga (WSAV-TV) – Coastal flooding in our area has submerged neighborhood streets to federal highways. all of this happening without a major storm. Communities like Tybee Island are taking a lead to be prepared in years to come.

“We really need to be taking a proactive stance in solving these problems,” says Coastal Georgia Advisory Council executive Paul Wolff.

The problem is coastal flooding triggered by rising sea levels. Last year University of Georgia oceanographers and other researchers documented more than twenty instances of significant flooding events on portions of Tybee Island.

The worst was the record breaking October flood submerging much of highway 80.

“The historic flooding we had on highway 80 last October 27th was the highest tide ever recorded at the Fort Pulaski tide gauge in the time that it’s been there since 1935 that was not associated with a storm surge as the result of a hurricane,” says Wolff.

The flood was caused by three major factors, northeasterly winds, a supermoon and the rise of sea level.

Since 1935, the Fort Pulaski tide gauge has collected coastal levels information. Since then, it shows sea levels have risen nearly a foot in less than a century.

“We know that there are typically a few closures per year right now. Those numbers will go up in the tens and into the hundreds of days per year when that road is impassible,” says Skidaway Institute Ocean Geologist Dr. Clark Alexander.

Dr. Alexander has studied the geology of Georgia’s coast for more than twenty years. Now more than ever, he says the institute can monitor and track sea level as well as potential flooding events. Dr. Alexander adds that the current estimates can actually show foresight for sea levels in the next century. He expects is to rise possibly by a meter, more than 3 feet, in the next century.

This data is much needed for public policy efforts currently in the works to combat the damage of the way of life for coastal communities.

“I think that’s very helpful for us to go to the Governor and our legislators and say ‘Look we’ve got a problem here and this needs to be fixed and it’s going to require significant investment,” says Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman.

In April the city of Tybee made that investment by adopting a sea level rise plan. Islanders constantly have to deal with the chance of a flood that not only can cover roads, but compromise water pumps, wells, and ground level electric systems.

That’s why county engineers suggest you always have a plan to turn those systems off during a flood event. The Chatham county emergency management agency has specific steps homeowners should take living in or off the coast.

“We’re dealing with the real world affects of it and we now have some concrete proposals before us that we can actually act on,” says the Tybee Island mayor.

The University of Georgia Skidaway Institute for Oceanography showcases many of the ongoing estimates of flood zones, damage, sea level rise, as well as hurricane tracks around the Georgia coast. You can take a look at the portal by following this link.

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