Along the Coast: Living on the coast comes with a potential flood warning

Sara Wilkinson, visiting her old neighborhood, steps into floodwaters

generated by king tides at Marina Delray, along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Crews repair a pump as water from the Intracoastal Waterway floods Briny Breezes’ marina area

during the October king tides.

Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

King tides expected to rise
Nov. 14, 15 and 16 to near October levels

By Cheryl Blackerby

    South Florida got two worrisome weather alarms in October: a warning in advance of Hurricane Matthew and, two weeks later, a National Weather Service coastal flood advisory for king tides.
    Coastal residents usually don’t pay as much attention to king tides as they do to dramatic TV graphics tracking hurricanes across the Atlantic, although high tides can cause tremendous damage on the coast.
    But king tides are starting to get their due.
    Alarmed by flooded streets on clear days and waves that wash over docks and seawalls, coastal residents have become increasingly familiar with the phenomenon of king tides, the name for the highest tides of the year, which occur in the fall.

    Flood advisories, issued to coastal community officials and residents, have been given in the last few years by the National Weather Service because of increasing problems with street flooding, sometimes as high as 1 or 2 feet.
    The king tides, a five- to seven-day event that happens at the full and new moons in October and November, reached their highest October level this year in the middle of the month. Although the tides were exacerbated by strong winds, they were not related to the hurricane.

Jennifer Turton of Lantana shoots a video of her dog, Campbell, walking through standing water

in the parking lot at Sportsman’s Park in Lantana just after high tide Oct. 14. The water is from king tides

that are common around the full moon in the fall.

Willie Howard/The Coastal Star


    “We’re very lucky king tides didn’t coincide with the hurricane,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Hagen. King tides can be greatly enhanced by factors such as rain, strength and direction of winds, and storms.
    “There was one additional factor this year that made king tides a little bit higher,” Hagen said. “We had pretty strong east/northeast winds about 20-25 mph blowing from the ocean to land. If winds had been calmer or from the west, water levels would have been lower.”
    Coastal residents in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties should be prepared for more high tide water Nov. 14, 15 and 16, when tides are predicted to rise again near October levels.
    Delray Beach issued its own advisory prior to the tides, saying, “The public may notice excessive water in roadways as well as water levels higher than some seawalls and docks.”
    The city’s precautions, according to the notice, included checking and cleaning storm drains, monitoring pump stations to ensure efficient operation, installing back-flow preventers on some storm water outfalls, and inspecting basins and tidal valves in flood areas.
    The city asked residents not to walk through floodwaters, not to drive on flooded streets, and to pick up debris that could obstruct storm drains.
    Residents should be aware that there is a big difference between flood advisories and flood warnings, said Hagen.
    “An advisory means there is 6 to 8 inches of water in some streets and sidewalks but not a lot of cases of water entering buildings, and that most roads are still open,” he said. “A flood warning means there is significant water entering buildings and residences, and there is a major impact produced by high water that could be life-threatening.”
    National Weather Service advisories are updated every 12 hours during high tides. Residents should keep in mind that the first high tide of the weeklong king tides is not the highest. Peak high tides will hit the third day.
    The term “king tides,” unknown a few years ago except to meteorologists and the most passionate of weather enthusiasts, is now common in South Floridians’ vocabulary. Most residents now know that the tides are dictated by the alignment of the moon, the sun and Earth in the fall.
    Another high tide, though not as high as king tides, occurs in the spring.
    Made more dangerous by rising seas related to climate change, these tides can add 12 inches or more of water to the average high tide, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parent agency of the National Weather Service. NOAA scientists say the high tides give a preview of what rising seas will be like in the future.
    To check for high tide updates, go to www.weather.gov/mfl and look under “Watches, Warnings and Advisories.”

Water topped the sea wall on the north side of Lake Boca Raton. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star