Coastal Hazards Add Thrills to Beachfront Properties—Triple Threat: More Frequent Storms, More Risk, and Failing Infrastructure

Coastal hazards threatening the U.S. are dramatically increasing in intensity and frequency.  Water-related natural disasters, including hurricanes, tropical storms, nor’easters, and heavy rains, are causing storm surges and flooding that are shattering all records. In 2020, the US endured 22 events, with 20 of those being coastal disasters.

U.S. natural disasters caused a record-shattering $95 billion in damage in 2020, according to the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That is nearly twice the amount of 2019 and affects communities’ economies in the nation’s 673 coastal counties. This year (2021), 538 Americans have lost their lives to natural disasters, and the year isn’t over yet. It is an alarming trend that began a decade ago and is expected to continue far into the future.

Climate change is causing water temperatures to rise, creating more heat energy for storms to develop and sea levels to rise. As a result, the US is experiencing more dangerous category 4 and 5 hurricanes, with wind speed 10 percent faster than in previous years.

Global warming is also causing more dangerous storm surge from stronger winds causing water to pile up under the storms, leading to more significant amounts of rain. Storm surge is the greatest threat to life and property along the coast. It is all a recipe for catastrophe for cities with unprepared infrastructures.

Insight From Examples in History

Let’s look at and learn from history and what happened to cities unprepared for handling coastal hazards. For example, Hurricane Ida was one of the most powerful and rapidly intensifying storms to hit the US coast as a Category 4 storm. It occurred in August of 2021 with wind speeds of 150 mph. New Orleans was not prepared for the storm’s catastrophic winds, heavy rainfall, tornadoes, or flash and urban flooding. It quickly overwhelmed the city’s water control systems. Power grids were devastated, and electricity was knocked out for many communities.

Another example is Hurricane Henri in 2021, which changed from a hurricane into a tropical storm and then a tropical depression. It hit the coast, making landfall in Rhode Island. Because of storm surge, up to 10” of rain dropped in some parts of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York’s Hudson River Valley. Central New Jersey was hardest hit with an overwhelming amount of stormwater. Water rushed through streets like rivers. The total damage and economic loss from Henri was estimated to be between $8 to $12 billion.

The worst in U.S. history was Hurricane Galveston back in 1900. It was the deadliest, with an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 lives lost. The devastating outcome was attributed to a lack of preparedness and warning.

Earlier Warning & Better Water Management

From the examples and predictions for the future, we can ascertain that no U.S. coastal region or city is 100% prepared for the natural disasters to come. Therefore, there is room for improvement in infrastructure, systems, procedures, etc. It will require some financial investment in technology, but the benefits include more minor damage and less lives lost in the costal disasters to come. Here are a few steps to improve disaster preparedness for your region or city.

Step 1 – Take A More Holistic Approach. Take a more holistic and thorough approach to monitor water and wastewater using equitable risk assessments that incorporate a variety of parameters: not just elevation and proximity to water. Inland areas experience floods too!

Step 2 – Identify Risk Zones Faster. Improve your ability to identify risk zones faster by integrating technology like Terrapin™, which tracks flows in real-time, assesses risk levels, and sends an alert when key parameters are breached.

Step 3 – More Effectively Monitor Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). Do a better job at monitoring CSOs—while meeting U.S. EPA requirements—by using technology to track the timing and volume of combined sewer overflows, as well as time to return to baseline flow conditions, i.e., 0 gallons. Models are a great first step; real data ensures you have the information you need to design for the future.

Step 4 – Automate Real-time Storm Analysis. Integrate technology like sensors and software that will collect, analyze, and report—in real-time—the status of your systems and water flows to keep you ahead of (and not behind) what is occurring.

These are just a few examples of steps that can improve a coastal region or city’s level of natural disaster preparedness. Plus, a few insights into technology that can be leveraged for better outcomes. The key is to be prepared for what is ahead and reduce the level of risk. There are other ways you can use data—as well as additional technology available—to further reduce coastal disaster risk.

To learn about them go to StormSensor at www.stormsensor.io.

About the author

Erin Rothman

Talk stormwater with erin@stormsensor.io With more than 15 years of environmental consulting experience, Erin observed so many opportunities for innovation in the stormwater industry. With those in mind, she founded StormSensor to enthusiastically embrace new technology to help solve the problems of an age-old industry.