4

Miami Beach's Tidal Flooding Has Jumped by 400 Percent in the Past Decade

^
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

Talk to certain native Floridians about sea-level rise, and they'll scoff at the idea that the floods regularly swamping cars and drowning businesses in South Beach are anything new. "Why, I remember a flood in 1962 that you can't imagine!" they'll say.

Sorry, old-timey climate-change deniers. Miami Beach's flooding is definitely unprecedented, and it's happening at a shockingly more frequent rate.

That's the conclusion of a team of University of Miami scientists that used a wealth of data from everything from tidal records and rain gauges to insurance claims to look at how often Miami Beach's streets have ended up underwater. They found that since 2006, rain-based floods have increased by 33 percent and tidal flooding by an astounding 400 percent.

"That's a surprising number," says Dr. Shimon Wdowinski, the study's lead author. "Nobody can say whether it will continue increasing at this rate. But this is still clearly a significant increase in flooding events."

Wdowinski, an Israeli-born, Harvard-educated geophysics professor, says he was inspired to look into flooding frequency by a 2013 Rolling Stone magazine story headlined "Goodbye, Miami," about the grim prospects of sea-level rise in South Florida. 

"This study all started from curiosity. I had heard a lot of talk in the media about flooding in Miami but hadn't seen any good data on how much it was increasing," Wdowinski says.

So the professor and three other researchers began diving into the data, which dated from 1998 through 2013 and included scientific records of tidal heights and rainfall amounts as well as insurance records, media reports, and photographs of the beach. 

The most obvious change, Wdowinski says, was the rapid increase in major floods due only to ocean tides. Such "sunny-day floods," which often cluster around king tides — the year's highest annual tides in the fall — leaped from an average of one a year to around four serious floods annually.

"We analyzed the data, and what we saw was that starting about 2006, there was an increase in the number of tidal events," he says.

So what's behind the leap in floods? Wdowinski says global climate change is clearly the culprit, but the direct link to Miami Beach is a complicated mix of rising sea levels, changed ocean currents, and local water systems.

"It's tied to a much bigger picture, not just something happening locally here."  

Wdowinski says he has watched with interest as Miami Beach has taken an aggressive approach to fighting the increased flooding, with a multimillion-dollar project to install pumps and raise street levels. He says the jury is still out on whether those measures will ultimately help, but he is glad to see the effort.

"I think people tend to become either in denial about this problem or they take the doom approach and believe nothing can be done," he says. "But I think we are actually in a period where we still have time to think both about intermediate changes and in the longer term about how to address this."  

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.

 

Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.