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Record-Breaking Sea Levels Observed in Southern California over Thanksgiving Holiday

In late November, record-breaking sea levels were observed at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tide stations in San Diego, La Jolla, and Santa Barbara. These Southern California tide stations logged water peak water levels even higher than predicted by NOAA. Several factors—including “King Tides” compounded by a minor storm and an ongoing El Nino that rivals 1982-83 and 1997-98 events—conspired to raise sea levels along California’s coast during Thanksgiving week. These factors accounted for up to an extra foot of sea level, which is additional to substantial sea level rise that has occurred during the past century due to global climate change—about 8 inches at the San Francisco tide station.

Nuisance flooding throughout California’s coast offered a glimpse of potential impacts of sea level rise that is congruent with mid-century projections. For example, street flooding in San Diego extended several miles inland when water surged into storm drains. Inundation in Mill Valley closed the Highway 101 off-ramp to Highway 1.

As pointed out by a recent post to the State’s newly launched storm preparedness website, it is “prudent to assume that the current strong El Niño conditions could bring similar trouble” to what was wrought by 1982-83 and 1997-98 events, which resulted in disaster declarations for flooding in coastal counties.

For the 2015-2016 El Niño season, the California Ocean Protection Council website on El Niño provides information on elevated sea levels.

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Post last edited on: 2015 December 14

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