It’s September 2049 and Category 3 Hurricane Able is barreling toward Cape Charles and up the Chesapeake Bay. Winds are clocked at 100 mph. Electricity in Virginia Beach and Norfolk has been knocked out for four hours and reports of extensive flooding, downed trees, and massive structural damage is coming in. Kent County braces for the worst. Emergency services are on alert. Low lying county, state and private roads are already submerged from torrential rains making it impossible to respond to some emergencies. In Chestertown and Rock Hall, marinas are overrun by surge and roads adjacent to rivers and the Bay are beginning to flood.
Since 2016, sea level has risen more than two feet, and the surge projections for the oncoming storm could add as much as an additional 8 feet.
Able would test any preparations Maryland and Kent County had implemented to mitigate the severity of the impending weather threat.
Will the County be ready?
Of course, this is an extreme and hopefully unlikely projection, but the reality is that less severe weather could cause havoc in Kent County as global warming exacerbates the already natural hazards (hurricanes, riverine and coastal flooding, severe storms) with rising sea water, heavier rains, and temperature elevations.
In other words, by 2050, a storm less forceful than Isabel could cause as much or more damage. The threat increases toward the end of the century with a projected 3.7 to 5.7 ft. sea rise. These figures are higher than other global predictions because of a phenomenon called “subsidence”, an ongoing reaction to the Earth’s crust to the retreat of the Laurentian Ice Sheet. It is also noted that these projections are based on current global warming projections and could be adjusted according to any global mitigation.
Those who experienced Isabel in 2003 might remember the sailboat drifting on Cannon Street, submerged cars, and kayakers on Water St. when more than 30 homes were flooded. In Rock Hall the storm surge surpassed the 1933 high water mark, taking with it one hundred properties. It took years to recover.
Thankfully, Kent County has taken the lead in studying the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather.
Last Tuesday a draft report, “Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Adaptation” was presented to the public at the County Commissioner’s Office in Chestertown. Funded by Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Natural Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce, and prepared by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, the report assesses current vulnerabilities, long-term vulnerabilities, hazard consequences and offers mitigation opportunities.
The presentation was made by Kent County Planning and Zoning Director Amy Moredock, Brian Ambrette, coastal resilience specialist at Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and Ginger Gregg of Kent County Emergency Services
Its three purposes, as described in the Plan’s introduction are: “to augment the Kent County Hazard Mitigation Plan, to inform the Kent County Comprehensive Plan, and to stimulate conversations and improve collaboration across governmental and community stakeholders.”
“Several plans are in place that clearly deal with climate matters,” Moredock said. The 2004 Hazard Mitigation Plan, which identifies historically recurring natural hazards, along with land use ordinances and a Floodplain Plan are all current policies that address aspects of climate change vulnerabilities.
The Floodplain program, updated in 2014 specifically identifies flood zones as areas “subject to the 100-year flood—1% annual chance—determined by FEMA and flood insurance studies, and they include tidal, non-tidal and riverine.”
Ambrette offered an overview of global climate change to address key elements in a dangerous equation— sea rise, warming air and water temperatures, an increase in precipitation, and the geological sinking of the Eastern Shore. Separately and together these elements will likely affect every stratum of life on the Eastern Shore and will require preparedness from overhauling road conditions (tar-based roads melt and or are vulnerable to impassable flooding) to revamping of town water runoff systems.
Ambrette underscored that the county is not in panic mode, but that the twenty-one adaption actions for preparedness and resilience in the report should become part of our government and resident discourse. See page 23 of the report for the complete action recommendations.
<em>The two videos, both ten minutes in length, offer key highlights to the presentation, along with a pdf of the<a href=”https://Draft_Kent_County_Climate_Change_Vulnerability_Assessment_August_2016 2″> complete report.</a></em>