King Tide in Florida This Month Was a Wake-Up Call
Important signs sometimes come in threes. I’ve heard it said that when two shocking things happen in a row, that a third is just around the corner.
Here are three signs that emerged on a single day in my hometown earlier this month that seem to indicate that sea level is rising faster than I thought.
1. Street flooding from King Tide totaled my car
2. New FEMA maps state more than a million Florida homes are now at high risk of flooding
3. My ultra conservative neighbor, usually skeptical about the whole climate change thing, decided to elevate his home
It started on a sunny morning on the shoreline road, as I drove to work in traffic through light puddles with little concern. I do recall thinking at one point about those FEMA posters saying you shouldn’t drive in water that might be deeper than it looks. “Turn Around, Don’t Drown”, they say. Figured that was for flash floods. Through my windshield, these just look like puddles.
Hurricane Season was almost over, and there were plenty of cars on the road. But the traffic was creating a wake, so the water was half-way up the hub caps when I noticed the trouble. Salty spray obscured my windshield as my car ground to a halt.
When the tow truck arrived, the driver said he was getting a lot of irate phone calls, angry people late for work. Salt water in the engine, he said, shaking his head. “This climate change is going to be good for my business.”
My insurance company later informed me that salt water got in past the sealant and up into the electronics. Just a few street waves and my car has been deemed a “Total Loss”. OK, I get it: salt water and cars are not a good mix, but “totaled” seemed a bit extreme.
Here in Palm Beach County, our increasingly frequent King Tides are amplified when there has been recent rain or tidal surge from nearby storms. Ours was even worse this time due to high winds blowing in from the ocean, a form of sunny day surge that can be perilous.
“The ground was already saturated by previous storms,” said a local savant at my coffee shop. “As sea levels rise, you know king tides get higher — when the water comes up through the drains in the street, it gets deep fast.”
He held up two “grande” coffee cups, one above the other, and opined that the rise predicted was likely to swamp this coffee shop, and the whole shopping mall around it. “Listen at this,” he said, and read from the front page of the Sun Sentinel:
“Florida is in the crosshairs of climate change. Rising seas, a population crowded along the coast, porous bedrock, and the relatively common occurrence of tropical storms put more real estate and people at risk from storm surges aggravated by sea level rise in Florida, than any other state by far.”
“Gets worse”, he said as he went on. “Some 2.4 million people and 1.3 million Florida homes, nearly half the risk nationwide, sit within 4 feet of the local high tide line.”
He shook his head at the scope. “Imagine this bit: For the hundreds of thousands of Floridians holding 30-year mortgages — and their banks — that date is too close. There may not even be 30-year-mortgages much longer,” he added quizzically.
Which brings me to my second sign of worsening sea level rise.
After watching my car disappear up the road on the back of the flat-bed with two other cars, I got a loaner car to tide me over. Next stop was my bank. When my teller heard my King Tide sob story, he surprised me by inviting me to their upcoming Flood Risk Workshop. Say what? Seems they’ve recognized that many homeowners in their mortgage portfolio run the risk of default with severe repetitive flood loss.
“Did you hear”, he said, “more than a million Florida homes are in danger of getting flooded by wetter conditions here.”
The bank chose to do something both savvy and compassionate — offer a discounted rate on HELOCs (Home Equity Lines of Credit) if you choose to add an elevation or floodproofing to a home improvement plan.
It’s called a “resilient renovation.” They support flood risk education efforts to underscore the benefits of a resilience plan for all Southeastern residents living with higher flood risk. My bank got the memo I had missed.
The third sign that morning was the clincher. My ultra conservative neighbor has never shown any interest in anything to do with nature, sea level rise, native plants, water quality, birds or fishing — normal Florida topics. They’re not his thing. He’s got other issues on his mind. No problem, when we see each other on the street, we just talk about food, football and bingeable TV shows — we’re amiable neighbors.
But this month’s King Tide really caught his attention. He got water into his garage, onto his patio and even a little came under the front door. Wrecked the rug, and it smelled pretty bad.
I’d heard that other memorable FEMA adage. For every inch of water in the house, the damage could run about $25,000 — until it reaches up to the electrical outlets, and then it will jump to $100,000 or more, and increase exponentially after that, until the house is essentially “totalled” (or just impossible to sell).
He knew to call ServPro first, then the local mold remediator second. He’d already done his own math: we have a little over six months till hurricane season starts up again — and three months until the next King Tide.
So he asked if I knew anyone who could price a home elevation. He’d already put down sandbags, he’d consider some floodproofing and maybe a drainage fix, but he was pretty sure he wanted to elevate his home.
He was very forthright, confident in his decision to look into home elevation. It’s an impressive structural project, not a sissy climate change thing, yet much more effective and less costly today than before. It’s a great way to invest in the future of your family’s home — likely your most important asset.
As he strolled back down the street I saw him put his cell phone to his ear. I think he was energized by the idea that in the face of his crisis, there was something he could do. We’ve been told we have the solutions for sea level rise already in hand. Most of us only need the impetus, just one trigger, and a neighbor or friend who gets it.
So don’t drive in salt water, and don’t wait to make a resilience plan for your home. We are lucky to live in these coastal communities — let’s make sure we can stay, for generations to come.
If you live in South Florida, learn more about upcoming Flood Risk Workshops hosted by Resilient Enterprise Solutions at: