NORFOLK, Va. - When high tides and heavy rain roll into flood-prone neighborhoods throughout Hampton Roads, cars can be virtually under water.
“We have lost two vehicles from being here,” said Dan Hollinger who lives in Norfolk’s Colonial Place neighborhood.
Debris washes ashore as high waters spill over the banks, and folks can be seen using kayaks in streets and wading through the water to get to higher ground.
“I have a pair of boots in my house and a pair of boots in my car, and we just traipse on through,” said Jennifer Peronnet of Norfolk.
Those scenes have become familiar sights in Hampton Roads and could be seen more often with high-tide flooding in low-lying areas inland expected to get worse.
“That’s a concern,” Hollinger said.
Morgan Butler is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. He’s been looking at the flooding issues in Virginia for years.
Butler said warmer climates and greenhouse gases are raising the level of the ocean, driving annual flooding even higher.
“Sea level rise is impacting the waterways that are connected to the ocean, so rivers are getting higher, and as those water levels get higher, you’re going to have flooding around those rivers and vicinity as well,” he said.
A new report by NOAA essentially confirms about a foot of sea level rise in the region in just 30 years – as much as the rise measured over the last 100 years.
That could leave inland communities like Virginia Beach and Norfolk in big trouble.
“This once again confirms that sea levels are rising and they’re rising at a faster and faster rate,” said Butler.
Even on a sunny day when there is no storm, and the winds are blowing in a certain direction, the streets in low-lying areas turn into rivers. That’s something that’ll keep happening more often as sea levels continue to rise.
“Right now, it’s low tide and it’s only about two feet,” Hollinger said of the Lafayette River across the street from his home. “During high tide, the water will come to the top. Anything more than four (feet), it’s going to come over the wall.”
In Norfolk’s Colonial Place neighborhood, some people are already ahead of the daunting threat. With funding from FEMA, one homeowner raised his house 11 feet off the ground several years ago.
Others are preparing to pay more as flood insurance goes up.
“I don’t like to pay more money for things but if I need it, I’m going to be glad I have it,” said Peronnet.
To lower the future risk of flooding, experts say we need to reduce emissions and help coastal communities become more resilient.