Maybe Hampton Roads Isn’t the Second Most Vulnerable Metro After All

Norfolk flooding this past August. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot.

Dave Mayfield, a reporter with the Virginian-Pilot, has frequently repeated the claim that Hampton Roads, after New Orleans, was the most vulnerable to sea level of rise major U.S. metropolitan areas. I’ve repeated that factoid on this blog — perhaps I picked it up from his writing, I can’t remember. Anyway, Mayfield began wondering about the scientific basis for that judgment. After digging into the matter, he discovered that Galveston, Texas, which is part of the Houston metropolitan area, is probably  more vulnerable…. depending on which metric you use to define vulnerability, which is another issue in itself.

Mayfield’s bottom line:

Sea level rise is too complicated a problem and each coastal area too unique to make truly reliable comparisons. So I’m going to resist calling Hampton Roads the third-most-vulnerable major metro area in the country, even with my new understanding.

I’m hoping that, by now, we all can accept that we’ve got a big problem, one that won’t easily be solved.

I respect anyone who questions his own assumptions, appreciates complexity, and is willing to revise his thinking. Good work, Mayfield!

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5 responses to “Maybe Hampton Roads Isn’t the Second Most Vulnerable Metro After All

  1. I tell you what – plan and build for a direct hit from a Cat 5 hurricane, and any threat from gradual sea level rise will be solved at the same time. Right now it shouldn’t be too hard to persuade people about the hurricane threat, although it is a natural human mental defense mechanism that scary memories fade.

    Trying to rank this is even sillier than trying to rank the colleges.

    • I had read in another source a year or two ago that Hampton Roads was the third most vulnerable area for sea level rise behind , Galveston and a town in Louisiana. Hampton Roads is complicated by the fact that the land is sinking as well as sea levels are rising. Something about the currents in the area also make it more susceptible.

      The increases in dock height that the Navy paid millions for several years ago at the Norfolk Naval Base are expected to be below sea level in a few decades.

  2. re:l build for a Cat5……..

    gonna be more expensive and even then private sector insurance may not insure – because – if the govt-provisioned infrastructure is wiped out then who’s going to pay for that also?

    I think we’re going to find out that it’s not that simple and a LOT of damage that may take years to rebuild – if even then.. some may yet be abandoned as too expensive to fix especially if it can get wiped out again.

    This would have a “Detroit” type effect as the revenues from taxable property will also plummet and regular public safety and education may well be impacted.

    If the govt gets out of the subsidized flood insurance business – it won’t take another hurricane to see massive impacts…just the idea that future ones are inevitable , and my bet is that these recent hurricanes are going to spur an evaluation and fiscal analysis to see what a future event might cost taxpayers …

    it may end up a downward spiral for coastal land development.

    houses on stilts… good… but if the roads and bridges are gone… then what?

  3. re:l build for a Cat5……..

    gonna be more expensive and even then private sector insurance may not insure – because – if the govt-provisioned infrastructure is wiped out then who’s going to pay for that also?

    I think we’re find out that it’s not that simple and a LOT of damage that may take years to rebuild – if even then.. some may yet be abandoned as too expensive to fix especially if it can get wiped out again.

    This would have a “Detroit” type effect as the revenues from taxable property will also plummet and regular public safety and education may well be impacted.

    If the govt gets out of the subsidized flood insurance business – it won’t take another hurricane to see massive impacts…just the idea that future ones are inevitable , and my bet is that these recent hurricanes are going to spur an evaluation and fiscal analysis to see what a future event might cost taxpayers …

    it may end up a downward spiral for coastal land development.

    houses on stilts… good… but if the roads and bridges are gone… then what?

  4. Years ago, when I was a college and law school student, I worked for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. One thing I learned that stays with me is that one should not build anything permanent in a flood plain. Perhaps, an exception can be made for maritime facilities, but not for dwellings for human habitation. (But I sure did see some great homes at the foot of Diamond Head.)

    I tend to agree with Larry that federal flood insurance should be phased out for dwellings in the flood plain. I don’t know where one would draw the line. 10-year flood, 20-year flood, etc.

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