North Carolina to Study Sea Level Rise for the Nation

RALEIGH, North Carolina, February 26, 2009 (ENS) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency is awarding $5 million to the state of North Carolina for a statewide risk assessment and mitigation strategy demonstration of the potential impacts of sea level rise caused by climate change.

Announcing the award on Tuesday, FEMA Regional Administrator Phil May said the information and results from this study may help formulate strategies to deal with potential effects of sea level rise along all of the nation’s coastlines.

FEMA also will use the results of this study to assess the long-term fiscal implications of climate change as it affects the frequency and effects of natural disasters.

Information from the study will be shared with other states to inform their climate change mitigation efforts.

“North Carolina has been very proactive in implementing and improving upon coastal zone management activities and policies,” May said. “Although the study is focused on just the state of North Carolina, the results of the study should be applicable to other coastal states as well.

In addition, the study will complement an existing study currently being performed by FEMA which focuses on the effect of climate change on the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA’s Mitigation Directorate administers the National Flood Insurance Program. This insurance, mapping, and land use program provides the availability of federally backed flood insurance to home and business owners located in participating communities.

Managing the study will be the North Carolina’s Office of Geospatial and Technology Management, part of the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, the office that oversees the state’s floodplain mapping and management programs.

Hurricane Isabel washed away sections of North Carolina’s barrier islands. (Photo courtesy USGS)

Twenty North Carolina counties border the Atlantic Ocean, including 70 miles of low-lying barrier islands. While these counties hold just 10 percent of the state’s population, they host many thousands of tourists who support one of the state’s largest industries. In 2005, visitors spent more than $2 billion in coastal communities that are vulnerable to storms and hurricanes.

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel breached one of the barrier islands in North Carolina. Damage in the state totaled $450 million, most of which was in Dare County where thousands of homes were washed away. The storm surge produced a 2,000-foot wide inlet on Hatteras Island, isolating Hatteras by road for two months.

Hurricane Floyd, in 1999, was a Category 2 hurricane when it hit Cape Fear, packing a 10-foot storm surge. Floyd claimed the lives of 56 people as it moved along the coast, and caused more than $6 billion in damage. Most of the deaths and damage were due to flooding rains that amounted to 19 inches in some parts of the state.

Recent studies show that hurricanes are becoming more powerful and more numerous, and this trend is expected to continue as the planetary temperature continues to increase. Coastal residents will experience sea level rise and higher storm surges that reach further inland.

The assessment North Carolina is conducting for FEMA will help to project how high the sea levels will rise and how much of the coastline will be inundated.

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