Hampton Roads could see record floods on the coast for the next decade, the study warns


NORFOLK, Virginia – The threat of flooding off the Hampton Roads coast could increase significantly over the next several years, according to new research from NASA and the University of Hawaii Sea Level Change Science Team.

Ben Hamlington, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, warns, “I think it’s important to keep in mind that it won’t necessarily be a gradual increase.”

The study, published in July, warns that impending changes in the lunar orbit could lead to record floods on Earth in the next decade. The “wobbling” of the moon is a natural occurrence that occurs over time. The gravitational pull of the moon creates our tides on earth, so any fluctuation in its orbit has a direct impact on how high the water rises along our coast.

For an area that is already used to harassment or “Sunday floods”, the possibility of increased flood risk is not welcome news.

“It is possible that we may have these very rapid climbs where the tide goes from a few times a year to many times a year, 100 times a year,” predicts Hamlington. “It’s just getting a lot harder to live with.”

Combined with the existing flood hazard from Hampton Roads and the constant rise in sea levels, any additional flooding caused by the change in the moon’s orbit could be devastating to our region.

“In our region, there is a very, very fine line between what annoying floods are and what really affects us in our daily lives,” said Jeff Orrock, a meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s office in Wakefield, Virginia.

Over the years, Orrock and his team have followed the slow but steady rise in our sea levels and the devastating effects it can have.

“The creeping is sometimes not that noticeable, but then suddenly there is a storm and you think, wow, that was a lot of water,” says Orrock.

What worries meteorologist Orrock about the future of Hampton Roads is our recent past. The last time our area experienced major tidal floods that lasted for days was in 2009 in the northeast. Then flooded cars drifted down Boush Street in waist-high water.

Orrock believes we will see such images again.

“We’re really getting to the point where we’re statistically a little overdue for another big storm that is really driving these tides pretty high,” Orrock said.

What are cities doing to protect neighborhoods from the increasing threat of significant coastal flooding?

Tonight at 6pm, ongoing coverage from News 3 host Blaine Stewart takes us to a Norfolk church to look at what could be a blueprint to keep large parts of the city dry and out of trouble.

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