- This map of Norfolk, Va., shows areas vulnerable to storm surges produced by minor to major hurricanes. (Hampton Roads Planning District Commission)
More than a million people in southeastern Virginia could suffer grievously if a major hurricane swept into town, a new report warns.
The partially government-funded report, prepared by the good folks at the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, predicted that thousands of miles of roads and hundreds of schools could be shut down by a Category 4 cyclone. The scarier Category 5 scenario was not addressed. (The report is apparently not online yet; I will post it when it becomes available. You can see maps of the areas potentially affected in this PDF.)
The threat comes in the form of storm surges – masses of seawater that are pushed toward coastlines during hurricanes. A storm surge that coincides with a high tide is incredibly destructive. During Hurricane Katrina, such a surge of 25 to 28 feet above average piled into Mississippi, and we’ve all seen what happened there. Here's a pictorial representation of the surge process from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research:
The cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Virginia Beach are some of the places along Virginia’s shoreline open to attack from a violently surging Atlantic. The ground beneath the region is sinking faster than any other landscape in the world and melting glaciers are dumping water into the sea, a combination that is slowly pumping up the water level around the Hampton Roads region, “Birthplace of English-speaking America.” The location wasn’t that high-up to begin with, either, with many residents living about 16 feet above water.
It’s hard to ignore the implications of a hurricane projectile vomiting all over some of America’s most strategically important assets. More than 100,000 people already face a flooding risk from a relatively mild Category 1 hurricane, according to the report. Clearly this is something to be taken with utmost seriousness and… what’s that, Mr. Commenter? How do we "un-fund the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission?" Ah, good point. Let's just all go about our business, then.