Wind, Water Damage At Fort Lauderdale Beach Preview Era Of Rising Sea Level

Nov 27, 2012

Fort Lauderdale Beach: Experts say the same weather with a lower sea would have caused less damage.
Credit Broward County

Wind, waves and high tides have eroded the beach, wrecked the seawall and undermined the roadway along northern Fort Lauderdale beach this month and the damage is raising short-  and long-term issues for local officials.

Short, because the wave damage may require S. R. A1A north of Sunrise Boulevard to shrink permanently from four lanes to two with bad effects on tourism imagery and local convenience.

But the long-term issue is the rising sea level as the climate changes and the region's relative state of unpreparedness.

"These are exactly the kind of impacts we are concerned about," Nancy Gassman, head of Broward County's climate change program, told the Sun-Sentinel. "We have to start to think about how to adapt."

'These are exactly the kind of impacts we are concerned about.' -Nancy Gassman, climate change expert

Actually, the thinking about how to adapt -- although not much of the adapting itself -- has been underway since the four South Florida counties met and adopted a climate change compact in October of 2009. Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties agreed to cooperate on legislative initiatives and an action plan for defending the region against rising sea levels.

"We can't sit back and wait for events to occur," Gassman said. "We need to be proactive about planning for these kinds of impacts that are likely to occur." 

Not that the sea level is directly to blame for what happened on Fort Lauderdale Beach. It was just another weather event, experts say, but the damage was greater because the sea is higher. Regional sea level has risen by eight to 10 inches over the last eight or nine decades. And, as the Sun-Sentinel reports, the rise is expected to continue:

Climate scientists predict sea levels in South Florida will rise by 1 foot by 2070, 2 feet by 2115, and 3 feet by 2150.
A 3-foot rise would mean extreme flooding not just on the barrier island and Las Olas neighborhoods, but also in communities such as Riverland, Sailboat Bend, Coral Ridge and Rio Vista.

(If you like to scare yourself, dial in a sea level rise in meters on this interactive map and watch areas of our state go underwater.)

Gassman says climate change and its effects will be incremental, so the building of defenses can also be incremental. For instance, on A-1-A, a small increase in the repair budget after this month's damage might bolster the roadway and seawall against damage from even higher sea levels.

The Fort Lauderdale beach neighborhood and its main road went to the front burner last month when Hurricane Sandy passed, breaking through seawalls and littering the streets with sand. Since then, the roadway has been closed twice after high tides and heavy waves destroyed sidewalks, knocked down palm trees and undermined the roadway.

City officials are meeting with engineers to discuss a massive beach restoration program that may keep the ocean at bay for a time. But climate change experts say the threat is more dire and will approach on a longer time line.

Some of the people who live along that stretch of Fort Lauderdale beach say they would prefer a two-lane road to the busier four-lanes that now exist. But almost all are concerned that uncontrolled beach erosion might one day destroy the road entirely and make their neighborhood uninhabitable.