Since 2010, for an average of 49 days each year — the equivalent of seven weeks — Wilmington has flooded. That figure distinguishes the city as first in the number of coastal flood days in the U.S., a phenomenon spurred by climate change.
A series of reports, “Climate Change Indicators,” released Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency, portends more flooding trouble along the mid-Atlantic and Southeast coasts.
“Floods are now at least 10 times more common there than they were in the 1950s,” the report on coastal flooding reads. The change is because of higher-than-average rises in relative sea level — the height of the ocean relative to the land at a particular location – – coupled with sinking land in places along the coast.
For example, North Carolina’s March 2015 sea-level rise report notes that land along northeast part of the coast is sinking. That area is also prone to rising oceans.
With a population of 75,000 and at just 50 feet above sea level, Wilmington is, thankfully, not sinking, like Duck and Cape Hatteras are. But the city is sandwiched on a sliver between Wrightsville Beach and the Cape Fear River, making it vulnerable to nuisance flooding — flooding not associated with severe storms.
International climate scientists estimate that depending on the level of greenhouse gases warming the atmosphere, the seas could rise from 3.5 inches to 9 inches in Wilmington by 2045.
The city has completed a Community Resilience Project , which calls for possible land-use restrictions and stormwater improvements to offset the impacts, especially along Market, Front and (the aptly named) Water streets, which lie along the Cape Fear River.