Rising Sea Levels Could Destroy These U.S. Cities Sooner Than You Think

It’s easy to remain partially aloof to the latest natural disaster flooding your newsfeed when it doesn’t involve you. But new data suggests tragedy could strike a little closer to home when rising sea levels are to blame. Sea level increases are up an average of 8 inches globally since 1880. And it’s no joke.

A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that roughly 180 communities in the United States are at risk of inundation by 2035, including more than 10% of the nation’s oceanfront communities. The number of underwater cities climbs even higher by the year 2100. A rise of just two feet would destroy towns across all coasts without any change in storms.

So which urban areas are most at risk? Here are 15 cities and their surrounding neighborhoods that could sink underwater in a matter of years.

1. Miami, Florida area

Miami skyline

Miami | aphotostory/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Miami Beach, Homestead, Hialeah, Fort Lauderdale

Miami-Dade County is one of many major metropolises at risk of coastal flooding and destruction from rising sea levels. A report from Climate Central predicts flooding would put 154,000 people at risk come 2050, but UCS data believes the city has until 2100 until the city is doomed for chronic inundation

Notorious Miami Beach, luxury shopping malls, and the Miami Dolphin’s brand-new NFL stadium would all become poised for destruction in this scenario.

Next: An entire city underwater?

2. Charleston, South Carolina area

Pineapple Fountain in Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Charleston Proper, Kiawah Island, Seabrook, Tybee Island

South Carolina’s Lowcountry is no stranger to coastal flooding, but the chronic inundation zone is slated to hit Charleston by 2060 and take out much of the area’s famed golf courses on Kiawah Island and many of the islands on the Gullah/Geechee Corridor.

Maps twenty years in the future also put Charleston proper in a high-risk scenario. Entire neighborhoods, a hospital, and much of the city’s historic market would be underwater at this time.

Next: Unexpected collateral damage

3. Boston, Massachusetts     

George Washington Monument at Public Garden in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Public Garden | Sean Pavone/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Quincy, Revere

Neighborhoods in Boston stand to lose much more than just houses and businesses should rising flood waters creep in. Real estate agents in Boston say homes near the ocean are losing value because buyers are afraid to purchase homes on a flood map. Agents in Quincey and Revere are selling beachfront homes for 9% less, which is unusual considering Boston has one of the hottest housing markets in the country right now.

Next: Down the shore

4. New Jersey coastline

New Jersey shoreline

New Jersey shoreline | Creative-Family/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Wildwood, Seaside Park, Ocean City

Sinking land will meet rising seas all along the New Jersey Coastline sooner rather than later. The “Jersey Shore” as the locals call it, is slated for “chronic disruptive inundation” by 2060 UCS says. Seaside Park and 14 more towns along the Jersey Shore, including Wildwood, Cape May, and Ocean City rarely experience the effects of tidal flooding but experts say they should start taking proactive measures to protect residents.

Next: Destruction in Florida

5. St. Petersburg, Florida area

Aerial view of the beach in St. Petersburg, Florida

Aerial view of the beach in St. Petersburg, Florida | felixmizioznikov/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Saint Pete Beach, Tierra Verde, Bradenton, Sarasota, Tarpon Springs

Five-foot surges would wash away most of St. Petersburg’s east side and put more than 91,000 people at risk. Even smaller cities to the south like Bradenton and Sarasota are flagged by UCS data for dangerous flooding by 2060. Rising sea levels would wash out golf courses, beaches, and a sizable chunk of the nation’s strawberry crop.

Next: A serious issue for wine-drinkers

6. Napa Valley, California

A grape cluster in Napa Valley

A grape cluster in Napa Valley | bmdesign/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Russia River, Napa River, Sonoma

Soon, you’ll have yet another reason to fear climate change. A 2013 study from Conservation.org predicted that land suitable for wine production in California may drop by 70% over the next 50 years thanks to shifting climates. Their prediction has legs, too, as wineries in California say climate change — scorching heat and flooding rains — have wreaked havoc on their 2017 grape production. Farmers fear the industry will continue to suffer should the conditions get worse.

Next: California’s claim to fame at risk

7. Greater Los Angeles, California

Huntington Beach pier at sunset

Huntington Beach pier | Jeremy Westerbeck/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Malibu

The North Coast, home to Huntington Beach in the greater Los Angeles region, will likely join the ranks of chronically inundated cities by 2100. Pristine beaches — California’s calling card — will be the first to go once rising sea levels erode away the sandy shores.

Next: Billions spent in proactive efforts can’t save this city

8. New Orleans, Louisiana

Bars with neon lights in the French Quarter of New Orleans

Bars with neon lights in the French Quarter of New Orleans | f11photo/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Mary Parish, Terrebonne, Isle de Jean Charles

Nearly every flood report marks New Orleans as a city most at risk of rising sea levels. There are 58 total coastal parishes that exceed UCS’s flooding threshold.  More than 50% of New Orleans rests below sea level, making it a prime target for catastrophic flooding if infrastructure were to fail. The city has spent more than $20 billion to protect itself since Katrina in 2005, but residents remain wary.

Next: Military bases in danger of rising sea levels

9. Coastal Virginia

Virginia Beach from the ocean

Virginia Beach | eurobanks/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Chesapeake

The Climate Central report says 66,000 people in Norfolk and 58,000 people in Virginia Beach could be vulnerable to coastal flooding as early as 2050. The Union of Concerned Scientists also warns that several military bases are vulnerable to dangerous floods and rising seas, including Langley Air Force base near Hampton, Virginia.

Next: The situation here just got a bit more dire

10. San Francisco Bay Area, California

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge | lucky-photographer/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: San Mateo, Oakland, Fremont, Hayward

Rising sea levels are likely in many major California metropolises, but the areas surrounding San Francisco could face serious danger by 2060. A five-foot rise in water level would put neighborhoods in and around the San Francisco Bay Area underwater, according to the Climate Central report. Of course, the fact that the Bay area is sinking doesn’t help things.

Next: No one is safe here

11. New York, New York

The Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center in New York City

The Statue of Liberty and One World Trade Center in New York City | spyarm/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: All New York City boroughs except the Bronx

Rising sea levels put hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City at risk of devastation, even though the city has invested millions in preventative flood structures already. The UCS report warns hardly any boroughs — and the countless hospitals, schools, airports, and businesses that come along with it — are safe from rising water, including heavily populated areas like Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

Next: East Coast annihilation

12. Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Ocean City, Maryland, view of the boardwalk and beach

Ocean City, Maryland’s boardwalk | abriggs21/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Crisfield, Ocean City, Smith Island, Deal Island

Maryland’s eastern shore had a wake-up call after historic flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy dumped 84.3 million gallons of sewage in Maryland. Experts warn low-lying coastal areas to plan for a 2-foot sea-level rise by 2050 that would sink the shoreline and other inland metropolises. Not only are neighborhoods like Crisfield and Ocean City at risk of total destruction, but Annapolis and its naval base is in the flood path, as well.

Next: Bad news in the Carolinas

13. North Carolina coast

The beach in Outer Banks, North Carolina

The beach in Outer Banks, North Carolina | RickSause/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Englehard, Hyde County, Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras, Cape Fear

Hurricane Matthew spewed unprecedented rain and wind on much of coastal North Carolina in 2016. Since then, the state has contracted with FEMA to shore up properties most at risk of future flooding. USC lists Hyde County and Englehard smack dab in the middle of the danger zone. Just minimal flooding would wipe out 40% of croplands, aquifers, and roadways.

Rising sea levels could do costly damage to countless other popular vacation spots along the Palmico Sound by 2035 in communities like the Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras.

Next: Risk in the south

14. Texas coast

Flare stacks at petroleum refinery in Port Arthur Texas

A petroleum refinery in Port Arthur, Texas | Rex_Wholster/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Port Arthur, Texas City, League City, Crystal Beach

Tidal flooding frequently inundates neighborhoods and roadways along the Texas coast. The UCS report cites a Bolivar Peninsula business owner who is frequently forced to close his shop when roads become impassible due to flood waters. Residents and emergency responders alike worry that even the slightest rise in sea level would do irrefutable damage to homes and businesses in the area.

Next: A lesser-known risk

15. Washington coast

Washington coast

The Washington coast | mattalberts/iStock/Getty Images

  • Neighborhoods at risk: Chinook, Naselle, Long Beach Peninsula

When it comes to dangerous flooding on the West Coast, Washington State and its neighbors worry most about the effects a tsunami would have on their towns, residents, and infrastructure. Much of the state’s low-lying coastal areas are considering vertical evacuation structures after a new map revealed shocking numbers of establishments that would become non-existent with just a tiny amount of flooding.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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