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Strong El Niño could bring increased sea levels, storm surges to US East Coast
Date:7/15/2011

Coastal communities along the U.S. East Coast may be at risk to higher sea levels accompanied by more destructive storm surges in future El Nio years, according to a new study by NOAA. The study was prompted by an unusual number of destructive storm surges along the East Coast during the 2009-2010 El Nio winter.

The study, led by Bill Sweet, Ph.D. from NOAA's Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, examined water levels and storm surge events during the 'cool season' of October to April for the past five decades at four sites representative of much of the East Coast: Boston, Atlantic City, N.J., Norfolk, Va., and Charleston, S.C.

From 1961 to 2010, it was found that in strong El Nio years, these coastal areas experienced nearly three times the average number of storm surge events (defined as those of one foot or greater). The research also found that waters in those areas saw a third-of-a-foot elevation in mean sea level above predicted conditions.

"High-water events are already a concern for coastal communities. Studies like this may better prepare local officials who plan for or respond to conditions that may impact their communities," said Sweet. "For instance, city planners may consider reinforcing the primary dunes to mitigate for erosion at their beaches and protecting vulnerable structures like city docks by October during a strong El Nio year."

El Nio conditions are characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that normally peak during the Northern Hemisphere 'cool season.' They occur every three to five years with stronger events generally occurring every 10-15 years. El Nio conditions have important consequences for global weather patterns, and within the U.S., often cause wetter-than-average conditions and cooler-than-normal temperatures across much of the South.

The study builds on previous ocean-atmospheric research, which has concluded that during
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Contact: John Ewald
john.ewald@noaa.gov
240-429-6127
NOAA Headquarters
Source:Eurekalert  

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