Wednesday, January 27, 2010

El Niño to top extreme tides

From: The News Tribune

Weather: Region has seen high water already this winter and likely will again in the next few weeks

JOHN DODGE; Staff writer
Last updated: January 27th, 2010 12:26 AM (PST)

South Sound faces some extreme high tides next week that could climb even higher than predicted because of this winter’s El Niño-influenced weather.

Tides are predicted to hover near 17 feet in Budd Inlet the mornings of Feb. 1-3, a height they reach only a few times a year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. University of Washington scientists say there’s a chance tides will be even higher than predicted.

In typical El Niño winters, when the equatorial Pacific warms and the Northwest experiences warmer and drier weather than normal, high tides average about a foot above predicted levels for the entire winter, said Nate Mantua, co-director of the UW Climate Impacts Group.

The warmer ocean water expands, the southwest winds pile up the ocean water feeding into Puget Sound, and the northwest Pacific Ocean experiences persistent low-pressure systems that also allow the water to expand, Mantua said.

Just last week, record-low barometric pressure off the West Coast played a major role in Puget Sound tides rising as much as 2 feet higher than predicted, pushing the actual tides in Budd Inlet close to or above the 17-foot mark by midweek. “It’s likely to happen again,” Mantua said of the string of weather events that pushes high tides even higher.

Neil Falkenburg, owner of West Bay Marina in lower Budd Inlet, said the high water last week spilled into his parking lot and lapped at the corner of his building.

What made it even more bizarre was the lack of wind or rain, which often accompany South Sound flooding, Falkenburg said.

“I’ve been here 20 years, and never seen the water this high,” he said. “If we have low barometric pressure next week, I’ll be here with my waders on.”

Across the inlet north of Priest Point Park, waterfront resident Rick Lawrence watched Wednesday morning with amazement as the high tide, which was supposed to be about 15.6 feet, topped his bulkhead and disabled his well’s pump.

He, too, said it was the highest tide he’s seen at his waterfront property in 20 years.

In early January, a 17-foot tide left about 2 feet of clearance between the water and the Percival Landing boardwalk in downtown Olympia.

Last week’s tide was higher than the one in early January, said Andy Haub, a city of Olympia public works official.

Olympia’s lack of an official tide gauge – the closest one is in Tacoma – makes it difficult to precisely compare one high tide with another, Haub said.

The city is working with the Port of Olympia to put a tide gauge in lower Budd Inlet.

High tides are expected to become a topic of increased importance in the decades ahead, because of sea-level rise attributed to climate change, Mantua and others have said.

Sea-level-rise models by the UW Climate Impacts Group show water levels in the Pacific Northwest increasing from 3 inches to 22 inches by 2050.

A sea-level increase of 13 inches could cause extensive flooding of downtown streets during extreme high tides because of marine water flowing up through storm drains, according to a city public works briefing paper presented to the City Council last year.

Olympia’s biggest flooding threats occur when high tides coincide with storms and heavy volumes in the Deschutes River, which flows into Budd Inlet, said Olympia assistant fire chief Greg Wright.

The weather forecast for the next week does not include that scenario, said Larry Kessel, who manages the Capitol Lake Dam, where the river meets lower Budd Inlet.

El Niño gets some of the credit for that, as it tends to split the jet stream that feeds winter storms into the Northwest, sending them instead to the north and south and leaving this region warmer and drier than normal.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

Originally published: January 27th, 2010 12:26 AM (PST)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Beach nourishing critic sees an opportunity here

by kevin lollar • • January 24, 2010

Opponents of Fort Myers Beach's beach nourishment project have invoked the name of Orrin Pilkey.

Pilkey is the James B. Duke professor emeritus of geology at Duke University and a famous opponent of beach nourishment.

So opponents of the beach project quote a paper Pilkey wrote that reads, "Almost without exception, nourished beaches disappear faster than natural beaches (2 to 12 times faster by our estimate)."

In the same paper, Pilkey states nourished beaches provide recreational opportunities and "a strong buffer against storms."

Much of Pilkey's work has been done in North Carolina, and he told The News-Press that Southwest Florida is a place where beach nourishment can work.

"You have lower wave energy than we have in North Carolina," he said. "We're blessed or cursed with high wave energy and frequent storms."

Pilkey's objection to beach nourishment is it rewards people who build too close to the water.

Beaches disappear and reappear naturally, but a disappearing beach is not a problem until rising water threatens homes and roads.

Instead of nourishing eroding beaches, Pilkey said, communities should retreat from the shoreline, tear down buildings, move inland and let the beach recover naturally.

A believer in sea-level rise, Pilkey said conditions are only going to get worse for beachfront communities.

"I'm standing back and looking at the bigger picture, not individual nourishment projects," Pilkey said. "In the big picture, Florida is in real trouble because of sea-level rise because Florida has been holding the shoreline in place for so long with nourishment and seawalls.

"Nourishment is the enemy of progress. When you nourish a beach, people have more confidence, then here come the high-rises."

When told about the Fort Myers Beach project, Pilkey said: "If I were king of Fort Myers Beach, I'd be using nourishment as a means of fine-tuning retreat from the shoreline.

"Once the buildings are destroyed, no more building."

In other words, nourish the beach to give people time to get move inland.

But that's not going to happen, Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah said.

"I'm a Pilkey fan: People shouldn't be living on barrier islands," he said. "But that's the reality. People have sought the opportunity to live on our beaches. Laws didn't prevent people from living in harm's way.

"Beaches are a buffer, as well as having wildlife value and economic value. If we don't maintain our beaches, we lose them."