March 18th, 2013


Author, High Tide on Main Street

Product Manager, Weather Underground


2012 was an astounding year of weather records. It was the hottest year ever in the United States. A searing drought parched more than half of the country, and a freak collision of thunderstorms slammed the Atlantic coast. The grand finale was Hurricane Sandy. Climate scientists have been warning about this kind of disruption for decades, and they say this kind of weather will become more fierce and more frequent in the future. What’s ahead?

In 2007, while running the group SeaKeepers, John Englander, author of High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis, took a group of billionaires to Greenland to look at ground zero for sea level rise. Because of the skepticism among the group, he wondered how to communicate the concern about climate change. Real estate values—that was something this group could relate to. “The coastline moving inland for the first time in 6,000 years is a story that gets everybody’s attention, no matter what their economic or social level or even location.” He had three families from Denver. Even they were interested because of where they vacation, where they’re relatives live, “and even if you live in a mile-high city, you’re dependent on the coastal infrastructure in our economy.”

According to Englander, sea level rises up and down 300-400 feet. “We are at the normal top spot, the normal warm point. After 20K years of warming, we should be entering the 80K year phase toward cooling and growing ice sheets and dropping sea level.” He went on to say, “The fact that it is now doing the opposite and the Arctic is melting, the ocean is eight tenths of a degree and a half F warmer, proves that we’ve broken the cycle. And that warming correlates with the amount of CO2 level, which is 40% higher than it’s been in the last 10 million years.”

Angela Fritz,atmospheric scientist at Weather Underground, agrees that we’ve reached a new normal. “I do think we’re in a new paradigm of climate—the anthropocene,” she said. “The era influenced by humans.” She went on to speak of the great drought of 2012 being just as bad as the dust bowl. “Unless we see some top 10% event in March or April, we’re going to continue that drought into 2013.” We’re now looking at multi-year weather activities. She also described how the greening of the arctic could be changing how the jet stream pattern works, slowing it down, making it more amplified. “What that means is that we are seeing more extreme weather and we will likely continue to see more extreme weather. And not only that, but it will probably last longer.”

Where are we most vulnerable? Englander points to two types of topography of greatest concern. The first includes low-lying areas with porous limestone, as in Florida. He envisions that in 200 years, for example, people in Miami will be living in houseboats and stilt homes. The second is where a large body of water is funneled into a smaller body of water, such as the San Francisco Bay.

So where should one choose to live? Fritz suggests that the tropics won’t warm much more, though there will be more rain. Costa Rica might be a good choice, or Honduras, she said, but then look out for hurricanes.

John Englander, author, High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis
Angela Fritz, atmospheric scientist, Weather Underground