El Niño made a nuisance of itself in 2015


Record ‘nuisance flooding’ in many US cities tied to Pacific weather pattern

The frequency of nuisance tidal flooding in many U.S. cities increased as predicted for the 2015 meteorological year, from May 2015 to April 2016, according to a new NOAA report.

In some cities, the days of nuisance flooding exceeded trends and broke records, especially in the southeastern U.S and Gulf Coast, which may be due to a strong El Niño compounding already rising sea levels.

Predicted and observed nuisance flood in 2015 and outlook for 2016. CREDIT NOAA
Predicted and observed nuisance flood in 2015 and outlook for 2016. CREDIT NOAA

Wilmington, North Carolina, saw an all-time high of 90 days of nuisance flooding, nearly one quarter of the year. Other cities with record numbers of flooding days are Charleston, South Carolina; Port Isabel, Texas; Mayport, Virginia Key, Key West, and Fernandina Beach, Florida, the report said. Some cities in the Mid-Atlantic and West Coast also experienced greater tidal flooding frequencies above normal trends, including Norfolk, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; and San Francisco and La Jolla, California.

Nuisance flooding, which causes such public inconveniences as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm drains and compromised infrastructure, now occurs with high tides in many locations due to climate-related sea level rise, land subsidence, and the loss of natural barriers.

These findings are a continuation of annual nuisance flooding monitoring and experimental predictions led by NOAA scientists William Sweet, Ph.D., and John Marra, Ph.D. The 2015 outlook, which covered the period between May 2015 through April 2016, indicated that mid-Atlantic and West Coast communities could experienced an increase over the trend in the number of nuisance flooding days due to likely higher sea levels during El Niño, which increases the reach of storm surges and high tides.

“Sea level rise is continuing and flooding impacts are happening now,” said Sweet, an oceanographer with NOAA’s Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services. “The upward trend in nuisance flooding is an ongoing issue. Last year we broke several records, and trends show that we’ll likely continue to do so in the future. Coastal communities should expect a new normal in nuisance tidal flooding and prepare for potential impacts.”

The new report, 2015 State of U.S. Nuisance Tidal Flooding, highlights nuisance flood during the 2015 meteorological year and compares it to the outlook at 28 NOAA tide stations around the United States, which have collected data for more than 50 years. It also provides a new outlook for the 2016 meteorological year, taking into account the La Niña conditions anticipated to develop in the coming months. La Niña typically has less effect on tidal flood frequencies compared to El Niño, however the nuisance flooding trend is still increasing.

The outlook for 2016 shows that the cities with the highest frequency of nuisance flooding will likely be:

  • Annapolis, Maryland, with 47 days
  • Wilmington, North Carolina, with 42 days
  • Washington, D.C., with 30 days
  • Charleston, South Carolina, with 27 days
  • Atlantic City and Sandy Hook, New Jersey, with 26 days

Along the California coast, less than 10 days are expected at La Jolla and San Francisco, a decrease from 13 and 20 days observed in 2015, respectively.

Nuisance flooding is increasing along U.S. coasts due to sea level rise. The extent of nuisance flooding depends on multiple factors, including topography and land cover. The study defines nuisance flooding as a daily rise in water level above minor flooding thresholds set locally by NOAA weather forecasters and emergency managers for coastal areas prone to flooding.


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June 13, 2016 1:26 am

Personally, I think two feet of snow is more of a “nuisance”

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
Reply to  Marcus
June 13, 2016 5:29 pm

Do the authors have historical data to claim El Nino made nuisance of flooding in 2015 over the past? If so present such ananalysis, otherwise this study has no meaning. San Francisco has not shown any sea level rise so far.
Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Robert from oz
June 13, 2016 1:30 am

Just me or does it seem closer than doomsayer makes out ?

June 13, 2016 1:55 am
June 13, 2016 2:27 am

Surely estuary expansion is a good thing…

Reply to  Slywolfe
June 13, 2016 5:57 am

I guess it depends on whether or not estuaries constitute you habitat.

June 13, 2016 2:45 am

A couple of millimetres of MSLR sure make a huge difference, don’t they. It’s not as though those other factors have much effect. /sarc

June 13, 2016 2:55 am

So would it be out of line to suggest increased land clearing / development / poor drainage maintenance has something to do with increased flooding ?

Reply to  Felflames
June 13, 2016 3:11 am

Climate change caused that too. See, the Ice Age ended, and that bit of climate change caused error-prone humans to expand, especially environmentals who make the most serious mistakes (climate policy)….

Reply to  ClimateOtter
June 13, 2016 3:27 am

What Ice Age?

Reply to  Felflames
June 13, 2016 3:25 am

“increased land clearing / development / poor drainage …”
Yeah, that and 3mm of SLR is wot done it.

Reply to  Felflames
June 13, 2016 6:28 am

Many areas “flooded” before but nobody had built anything there. Washington DC and Alexandria, which is on the other side of the Potomac, once had docks and swamp where condos now stand. National Airport was built on mudflats with landfill in an area that was called Gravely Point.

June 13, 2016 3:56 am

Boston is at the head of the list, how nice. The new generations do not know their history. They think I am kidding them when I tell them that The Fenway (home of the Red Sox) used to be a fen (a type of swamp), or that the Back Bay really used to be a bay. For a long time it seemed that Boston was winning the battle with the sea, going back 300 years.
Now, Global Warming has changed all that. Global sea level rise is now 8 in./century, or (if you like) 2 cm/decade (a bit less here because of post-glacial rebound). This is a true force of nature, unstoppable, implacable, relentless. The millions of tons of concrete, steel, asphalt used in the construction of the city are as nothing compared to this Force Of Nature. It will be all swept away with the tides. Even the tunnels of the Big Dig will be underwater. (Well, they are underwater, but they were built that way. They do leak rather more than they should) But anyway, they are going to be destroyed. Even the cruise ships (generally considered immune to SLR) will have no place to dock, as the Cruise Terminal floods out.
The whole city is to be flooded, totally destroyed by this merciless, determined invasion of the sea.
Coffee, I need more Coffee. Must have Coffee.

Reply to  TonyL
June 13, 2016 6:59 am


Even the cruise ships (generally considered immune to SLR) […]

Any of the cruise ships that used H.R. Gunwale Raising Services, Inc are guaranteed to be immune from sea level rise for a period of 20 years after installation.*
*Fine print: Ship’s draft relative to sea level must be as when gunwales were raised. Warranty is non-transferable. Void where prohibited by law. State and Federal Taxes not included. Additional fee of $2,010,679.97 will be added for shipping and handling. All items returned for warranty repair must be in original packaging and accompanied by the original receipt. Ships flagged out of Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota are eligible for an extended warranty at a discount.
(Apologies for plugging my gunwale raising services here, but it is important in the fight against CAGW and besides, think of the children and grandchildren… mine, and their private school and college tuition.)

June 13, 2016 4:50 am

Don’t forget the punch line from the City of Boston’s sea level page:
“The station in Boston Harbor is located in the Fort Point Channel. With records going back to 1920, NOAA data indicate that, over the past century, the relative sea level has risen about 10 inches. Scientists estimate that about half of this is from rise in the absolute sea level, and half from land subsidence.”
I think that works out to about 1.2mm/year of actual sea level increase.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Steve Ellis
June 13, 2016 10:34 am

To paraphrase Tip O’Neill: “All sea rise is local.”

June 13, 2016 4:51 am

Politicians like to use the tax code to punish behavior they don’t like (tobacco tax) and reward behavior they do like with tax credits/subsidies (“green” energy). Then eliminate taxpayer subsidized federal flood insurance on the coasts. Stop enacting multi-billion emergency bail outs for coastal property owners when a “Sandy” hits, just so owners can rebuild and get bailed out again a few years later when the next storm hits. Eliminate taxpayer subsidized federal flood insurance and you’ll see lots of people move inland.

Johann Wundersamer
June 13, 2016 5:19 am

Americans, like EU’s, don’t understand what Trump, Putin, Lehmann Brothers, Goldman Sax, Merkel, KUKA, really is:

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
June 13, 2016 5:27 am

forgot Deutsche Bank, VW.
but that’s playgrounds.

Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
June 13, 2016 6:31 am

Shouldn’t the tri-lateral commission be in there somewhere?

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
June 13, 2016 5:58 pm
June 13, 2016 5:40 am

From the article: “Nuisance flooding, which causes such public inconveniences as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm drains and compromised infrastructure, now occurs with high tides in many locations due to climate-related sea level rise,”
“Climate-related”. I like that! Has NOAA suddenly gone honest? No mention of “human-caused”. WUWT?

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  TA
June 13, 2016 7:24 am

No need. “Human-caused” is simply assumed. All part of the strategy of dishonesty.

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
June 13, 2016 7:56 pm

So in the future, I will have to assume that they are assuming. Ok, got it. 🙂

Tom Halla
June 13, 2016 6:24 am

Climate change or not, it is still mostly building in a flood plain. The end stage of El niño procuded flooding in Houston, but 2-300 mm of rain just overcame the available drainage.

Steve Fraser
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 13, 2016 7:35 am

You bet. 2nd late spring rains in two years. The one last year broke the extended drought, but the most persistent rains were a bit farther north than Houston.
Now, our statewide reservoir map is in much better shape:
And, even the ones in West Texas are improving.

Steve Fraser
Reply to  Tom Halla
June 13, 2016 7:38 am

But, the rains are not done in Houston, yet. TPW is high once again, and when a low parks down there, more rain will fall.

Reply to  Steve Fraser
June 13, 2016 8:04 pm

Yeah, that low is hanging around our area. I’m glad to see it. The later we get in the year around here, the less likely it is for us to get rain, so the longer into the summer season it rains, the better off we are.
In years past, the rains would dry up about this time of year, early June, and then we would have dry conditions until about the end of August, then the rains would start to come back into the area. I would say 8 out of 10 years are like that, more or less. Of course, no year is ever exactly the same, and we do have very extreme weather every now and then.

Bruce Cobb
June 13, 2016 6:29 am

Oh good. More nuisance “Science” from the num-nutz at NOAA.

June 13, 2016 7:42 am

But “nuisance flooding” is great for EPA over reach with wetland laws on the books and associated fines per day.

June 13, 2016 8:38 am

The chart shows that NOAA are lousy at predicting nuisance flooding but I don’t see any information about the actual amount of increased flooding. Was it 1 mm or 1 meter above normal, or was the only change in the number of days flooding occurred? I find it troubling that a scientific report, from a scientific agency, contains no quantitative information on the reported phenomenon.

Reply to  Thomas
June 13, 2016 8:52 am

AND–just what is normal????

June 13, 2016 10:01 am

Talking about El Nino, CBC News is once again interviewing Bill Patzert:

“As the storms moved across the Pacific aiming for the southern part of the United States, essentially a great high-pressure system built over the American Southwest and detoured all of those storms into northern California, Washington [and] Oregon,” Patzert says.

Patzert of course avoids to wonder how these high pressure systems happened to be built… But one can always count on the CBC to find the perfect mouthpiece… And comments are not open for that CBC story.
As drought was predicted for Western Canada by the CBC Vancouver resident weather woman, Ms. Johanna Wagstaffe, precipitations values for Vancouver in winter 2015/16 were systematically above those recorded during the non El Nino preceeding year… Yet, as a good propagandist, she kept showing her cartoon of winter drought even late into the spring.

John Harmsworth
June 13, 2016 10:28 am

I think all news is now seen through the grossly distorted lens of AGW orthodoxy. We are guilty of it here as we default to defensive responses. This is one of the biggest problems I have with AGW. In this case I would say that significant coastal flooding requires unusually high tides or severe storm conditions. Neither of these are more common now. This means that the majority of this flooding has other causes.
So when we assume the issue is AGW caused, we stop looking for other problems about which there are potentially corrective actions to be taken. Providing insurance subsidies that keep people in flood prone areas, failing to allow for run off from paved over areas. Sensible and informed planning moves unfortunately don’t win votes.
Thus the focus on AGW actually prevents solving problems. Coal bleaching? Control agricultural run off!
OK! I stalled out there! The other issues they squawk about don’t even exist!

James at 48
June 13, 2016 10:34 am

The passive margin is doing what passive margins do. It’s sinking. Meanwhile, the long trailing edge of the Great Melt continues apace, as it will, until the end of the current interglacial.

Retired Engineer Jim
June 14, 2016 12:00 pm

My wife and I frequently go to Laguna Beach, California (between La Jolla and San Francisco). In years past, there has been “nuisance” flooding of a foot or so in the business district during particularly strong storms. There has been no flooding during this El Nino period that we saw.
Turns out that the flooding is a consequence of Laguna Canyon Road being built over the bed of the creek that formed Laguna Canyon over the eons, and poor management of debris upstream of the entrance to this long culvert. So, if it rains hard, and debris collects an blocks the creek at the entrance to the culvert, the water goes up and over, running down Laguna Canyon Road, and Broadway, to the beach.
In the almost 20 years that we have been visiting Laguna Beach, we have noticed no (none, nada, rien, nichts) sea level rise. Guess, LB is just a lucky place.

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