Homes and buildings are collapsing into the ocean and authorities have issued warnings to evacuate some areas as Tropical Storm Nicole pushes a huge volume of ocean water onshore in southeast Florida.
Video from Volusia County shows homes crumbling, reduced to wreckage, as Nicole’s waves erode the coastline. Separate video shows the county’s beach safety office collapsing into the rising water.
“Right now, ground zero is here,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood told CNN affiliate WESH-TV on Wednesday as Nicole came ashore as a category 1 hurricane.
Three main factors are contributing to the dangerous situation on the coast.
Nicole’s storm surge, which peaked at around 6 feet Thursday morning, is significant because of how massive the storm was as it approached Florida on Wednesday, with tropical-storm-force winds stretching for more than 500 miles.
That storm surge pushed ashore on top of exceptionally high tides associated with this week’s full moon.
And behind it all, sea level in this part of Florida has risen more than a foot in the past 100 years, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and most of that rise has occurred in the past three decades.
Scientists and researchers have long warned that sea level rise is leading to more erosion and high-tide flooding — particularly during extreme coastal storms. This is putting even more stress on sea walls, which are meant to protect coastal communities from high waves and water levels.
“We do gradually put more stress on [sea walls] with sea level rise,” Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, told CNN. “More and more of them are gradually, completely submerged in saltwater, which concrete does not like.”
McNoldy also noted that these walls are aging, and the back-to-back nature of storms is making seawalls more vulnerable. It was only six weeks ago that Hurricane Ian’s storm surge eroded parts of Florida’s eastern coast.
“It doesn’t really take a strong storm – you just need high tides or storm-agitated tides to wash away or put extra stress on the walls,” he said. “Having these two storms six weeks apart, if you don’t give places any time to repair or replenish, each storm definitely leaves its mark.”
Many coastal communities in the US experience nuisance flooding, or high-tide flooding, on a regular basis. Higher sea levels, caused by warmer water temperatures and melting glaciers and ice sheets, increase the hazards coastal residents are exposed to.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in 2019 that by 2050, the United States will experience 25 to 75 days of high-tide flooding.
Additionally, hurricane storm surge is creeping higher, and homes and other critical infrastructure are now exposed to saltwater and erosion that they weren’t a few decades ago.