Every October, the king tide sweeps across South Florida as the full moon orbits closest to Earth. This alignment causes the highest water level of the year. Roads and yards flood. But scientists say this could be one of the worst Fort Lauderdale has faced — a perfect storm of an offshore hurricane, the moon's gravitational pull, and sea-level rise.
"Some people still say that sea-level rise isn't happening or that its effects are so far from now," says Keren Bolter, a climate, policy, and geospatial analyst for the South Florida Regional Council. "But the high tide on Sunday and Monday will be a snapshot of what every day will be like in 2030."
It seems that Hurricane Nicole's offshore currents are proving an unforeseen catalyst to the tides. On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that water levels on Virginia Key Beach in Miami were already one foot higher than predicted, and in a statement, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler reported that tides in his city were already averaging more than 15 inches above the predicted levels. This is especially alarming since the peak water levels are not expected until Sunday and Monday high tides.
Keren Bolter has been studying South Florida's king tides since 2009. In Broward County, she says, the Las Olas Finger Isles, particularly Mola Avenue, have been very susceptible to flooding. Bolter also recalls that water pools in parts of A1A in Hollywood and near Dania Beach frequently each October. Much of South Lake in Hollywood has no sea wall, making it vulnerable to the king tide too.
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Fort Lauderdale spokesperson Shannon Vezina tells New Times that city workers have been driving around monitoring flood levels since Wednesday. To prepare for the looming tide, workers have been clearing storm drains and catch basins, removing standing water from streets, and monitoring pump stations and tidal valves (which are one-way rubber contraptions installed in the city's drains to prevent sea water from pouring backward onto the street.)
"There is a potential that the tide waters will flood our low-lying areas, particularly along the Las Olas Isles, so we continue to closely monitor those areas and stay in touch with residents," Vezina stated in an email. "We have the ability to deploy temporary sand berms and dams as additional flood protection measures, if needed."
Though the especially high waters are an inconvenience to residents and city officials, the king tide is almost like a sea-level rise holiday for analysts and scientists like Bolter. Every year, they race around South Florida taking measurements and recording water levels. According to Bolter, it's a real glimpse of how the community would withstand an extra foot or two of water. It allows officials to detect problem areas and take preventive measures before it's too late.
But it doesn't seem like there are any catchall solutions. "It's like plugging the holes on a ship and another hole keeps popping up," Bolter says. "The real question is if sea levels are rising so fast it's to the point where it will overtake the offsets we're making."