By the end of the century, melting glaciers could raise water levels on the eastern seaboard five feet higher, give or take a foot. That means that even run-of-the-mill storms will be capable of producing the kind of catastrophic flooding that Hurricane Sandy—a so-called "one-in-500-year storm"—unleashed on the tri-state area last year.
A new report by Mark Fischetti in Scientific American breaks down the implications of the likely rise in sea levels over the next 87 years. His prediction? Sandy-level flooding every two to three years.
"Flood maps just updated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in January indicate that even an eight-foot (2.5-meter) surge would cause widespread, destructive flooding," Fischetti writes. "If sea level rises by five feet, the chance in any year of a storm bringing a three-foot surge to New York City will increase to as high as one in three or even one in two, according to various projections."
The destruction that followed Sandy has spurred people to action in the worst-hit areas. Power companies and governments have proposed buffer zones and unveiled billion-dollar plans to stormproof electrical infrastructure in the New York metropolitan area.
But Fischetti argues that these steps won't be enough.
"Retreat from low-lying shores may be the best option," he writes. "Despite the gut reaction of 'No, we won’t go,' climate forces already in motion may leave few options."