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Future El Nino Threatens East Coast Communities

July 15, 2011

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast could be at risk to higher sea levels and more destructive storm surges in future El Nino years.

NOAA’s new study examined water levels and storm surge events during the “cool season” of October to April for the past five decades at four sites.

The study found that strong El Nino years caused the East Cost to have three times the average number of storm surge events.  The research also found that waters in those areas saw a third-of-a-foot elevation in mean sea level above predicted conditions.

“High-water events are already a concern for coastal communities. Studies like this may better prepare local officials who plan for or respond to conditions that may impact their communities,” Bill Sweet, Ph.D. from NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, said in a statement.

“For instance, city planners may consider reinforcing the primary dunes to mitigate for erosion at their beaches and protecting vulnerable structures like city docks by October during a strong El Niño year.”

El Nino conditions are characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that normally peak during the Northern Hemisphere “cool season,” according to the NOAA.

El Nino usually fades in the warmer months, and may transition into La Nina conditions, which are generally the opposite to those of El Nino.

“This research furthers our understanding of the interconnections between the ocean and atmosphere, which are so important in the Earth’s climate system, and points to ways this greater understanding can be used to help coastal communities prepare for the winter season,” Keith L. Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, said in a statement.

The study was published in the journal Monthly Weather Review.

Image Caption: A new NOAA study found coastal areas along the East Coast could be more vulnerable to storm surges and sea level rise in future El Nino years. Credit: NOAA

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