PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The current hurricane season has put into perspective how at risk the coastlines of the United States are.
From Texas to Florida to Puerto Rico, we have seen Mother Nature wreak havoc in flood prone areas. While the threat of large-scale storms and events like those associated with tropical weather and hurricanes is out there, there is another slower moving but just as destructive force that could cause even more damage than any storm this season. That is rising ocean levels associated with climate change.
Scientists have been combing through data to see how the effects of climate change are going to change the look of the country’s shorelines and what the monetary losses could potentially be in areas like the Jersey Shore, Florida, or even here in Philadelphia along the Delaware River. Right now most scientists agree on a middle of the road estimate of about a six-foot rise in ocean levels by the year 2100. When you look at it in the aspect of six feet in 83 years that may not seem like a whole lot but when you consider the U.S. has over 95,471 miles of shoreline with 39 percent of the population living along the coast that six-foot rise means a whole lot more. To compound the issue, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, coupled with help from the U.S. Census Bureau, they estimate that the number of people living along the coast could increase from 123 million to closer to 134 million people by the year 2020.
So what does a six-foot rise mean for cities and people who live along the shorelines of the United States now? More specifically, what does it mean for people in South New Jersey or Philadelphia?
A study done recently by Zillow, went through and crunched the numbers for how many houses could potentially be placed under water by a six-foot rise in ocean levels, as well as how much money could potentially be lost in property and home value by that kind of water rise. The study concluded that on a national level, the Metro area that would be adversely affected the most would be that of Miami. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as Miami sits right on the beach in Southeast Florida. A rise of six feet in the Miami area would place over 480,000 homes underwater or just around 24 percent of all homes in the Metro area.
When you add up the property losses you would see in an event like this in the Miami area, it would be a loss of over $213 billion. While Miami might seem like a logical choice of a city to take a rise in sea levels the hardest, the second city on the list comes with a bit more shock value. It is New York City. In the case of NYC, over 180,000 homes would be placed under water or 4.6 percent of all homes in the New York Metro area. The property loss would be in the range of about $123 billion. As you can see it is a huge drop off from numbers 1 to 2 on the list and that is how most of the list plays out. Where does Philly fall in the grand scheme of all this? Somewhere in the bottom half of the middle. In the Philadelphia metro area, according to Zillow there are approximately 1.9 million homes. A water rise of six feet in the Metro would place almost 18,000 homes underwater, or just shy of 1 percent of all homes in the Metro. The monetary loss from a rise of six feet would be over $3 billion for the Philadelphia Metro area. When looking into the city of Philadelphia itself, the numbers aren’t quite as staggering with just shy of 2,000 homes being displaced underwater or 0.4 percent of all homes within the city itself.
Let’s cross the bridge into New Jersey though, where the numbers across the board are increased a bit due to the extended coastline and the status of many town as vacation towns. In an attempt to compare the Philly Metro to South New Jersey, we will use Cape May County as our measuring stick. In all of Cape May County we have a total of almost 81,000 homes. As we know most of those homes are in the shore towns like Cape May, Sea Isle, or Ocean City. With so much of the population along the coastline as well as the elevation of the land much lower, as you might expect, a higher percentage of homes will be affected by a six foot rise in water. Of the almost 81,000 homes in Cape May County, almost 48,000 would be displaced underwater by the rise. That comes out to almost 57 percent of all the homes in Cape May County being underwater, or more than 50 times the amount that would be underwater in the Philly Metro. The monetary loss between Cape May County and the Philadelphia Metro is staggering as well. Just in Cape May County there would be an expected loss of over $29 billion, or over $26 billion more than the loss would be in the Philly Metro area. Of all the shore towns, there is one that would be affected by this rise more than any other and that is the city of Wildwood. In the city there would be an estimated loss of almost 4,500 homes accounting for 99.8 percent of the cities homes, think about that for a couple of minutes. Almost every home in Wildwood would be underwater with an ocean rise of six feet.
Right now these are all just estimates and projections based on a rise of six feet in ocean levels, but the results are pretty staggering none the less. What this means is we need to continue to monitor the environment and continue to try to curb the effects of climate change or many of our children or grandchildren could be looking for new places to live and vacation here and across the country.