Beaufort County set for another helping of ‘king’ tides for Thanksgiving

(The Beaufort-Port Royal Sea Level Rise Task Force mentioned in this story is a project of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce)

Hilton Head Island Packet
November 23, 2015


Thanksgiving will bring Beaufort County another helping of unusually high tides and possible nuisance flooding, continuing a troubling trend driven by several factors.

High water over the past couple of months has pulled away beaches from area barrier islands, threatened homes and created stormwater issues. A full moon on Thanksgiving will again cause extreme tides in the coming days.

Sea level during fall months is typically about a foot higher than other times of the year anyway, said Billy Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Adding to that are ongoing wind patterns that have pushed water higher on parts of the Atlantic coast, he said. The wind patters are linked to a historic El Nino — the warming of water in the Pacific. Ongoing sea-level rise trends aren’t helping.

The winds don’t affect this area as much as some in the Northeast, Sweet said. But they partner with a slowed-down Gulf Stream this time of year, which drives higher water to shore.

“So then when these events come through like spring tides or king tides — whatever people want to call them — they just become that much more impactful,” Sweet said.

“Nuisance” flooding is characterized by NOAA as tides higher than 7 feet, when the public is inconvenienced by road closures and stormwater issues. The closest cities with NOAA stations have already surpassed the predicted number of flooding days for the tidal year, which runs from May until next April.

Charleston has experienced 30 days of nuisance flooding since May, Sweet said.

In Savannah, at a NOAA station with a slightly higher elevation, there have been 20 days of the flooding.

Charleston was predicted to see 26 days of nuisance flooding this year.

Savannah was slated for 18 days of floods.

The current El Nino is on pace to be among the strongest on record and is strengthening, according to the latest information from NOAA. Its effects could be felt through late spring.

Preparing for more

Beaufort County maintains a list of “hot spots” that could be susceptible to flooding during high tides and is ready to respond, stormwater management director Eric Larson said.

“There’s not a lot we can do until then,” he said.

On Hunting Island, which was hit hard with flooding, debris and erosion during October’s heavy rains and king tides, park officials are preparing for the possibility for more. Cleanup is still ongoing at the state park from last month’s event, which took away an estimated 10-15 feet of sand in some areas, park manager Daniel Gambrell said.

The coming high tides will be monitored and campers and park-goers made aware of possible flooding, he said.

“Right now we’re kind of monitoring it and seeing how high the tides are expected to be,” Gambrell said.

In downtown Beaufort, stormwater issues on three streets last month required collaboration between the city, county and S.C. Department of Transportation.

DOT has also addressed issues from tidal erosion in the Mossy Oaks area, restoring an eroded shoulder on Battery Creek Road and rebuilding a bank on First Boulevard that had washed away due to tidal influences from Battery Creek.

Some residents of Harbor Island and Daufuskie Island received emergency permission last month to use sand bags to slow erosion and to bring in more sand from other parts of the beach

Harbor Island resident Tricia Gardner brought in 15 truckloads of sand and hundreds of sandbags to guard her beachfront home in October after the emergency orders.

Gardner said the work was “really only a Band-Aid.”

No overnight solutions

The high water has area leaders thinking about ways to plan for continued sea-level rise.

“It’s not going to be an overnight solution,” said Larson, the county stormwater and environmental engineering director. “It’s going to require some long -range planning and coming up with a solution to funding (projects) longterm.”

Sea levels have risen a foot in the past 100 years, according to NOAA data.

In northern Beaufort County, a group known as the Beaufort-Port Royal Sea Level Rise Task Force has embarked on a campaign to educate municipal officials and neighborhood residents. The panel wants to spur plans to make the area more resilient to expected sea-level rise.

The most recent event was a meeting Thursday with residents of Beaufort’s Old Commons neighborhood.

From August 2013 to November 2014, a project team of county planners and researchers met to learn about sea-level rise and discuss possible action. The project, sponsored by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, developed a list of actions for the area to begin preparing for rising seas.

Among the top priorities were improved communication between local governments and agencies, creating a public education campaign and incorporating the prospect of sea-level rise into emergency management plans.

Further down the list were infrastructure concerns such as limiting development in high-risk areas and raising roads.

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