Changes are coming next month to how often the National Weather Service warns coastal residents about minor tidal flooding.
Rather than issuing a coastal flood advisory when forecasted water levels near 6 feet at the Atlantic City station or 6.7 feet at the Cape May Ferry Terminal — the levels at which minor tidal flooding begins — the service starting Nov. 4 will issue advisories when tides reach 6.3 feet in Atlantic City and 7 feet at the ferry terminal.
Coastal flood warnings, which are issued for moderate to severe tidal flooding, are not affected by the new threshold and will continue to be issued when forecasters expect the water to reach at least 7 feet at Steel Pier or 7.7 feet at the Cape May Ferry Terminal.
The changes, the service said, are an effort to reduce “warning fatigue” and, instead, let area residents know that minor coastal flooding is more significant than the typical spill-overs that occur relatively regularly, such as during full and new moons.
The frequency of minor tidal flooding and related advisories has increased in the past few years due to sea level rise. About five months ago, the Mount Holly office began discussing whether changes were needed, said Gary Szatkowski, a meterologist with the National Weather Service.
“We were getting to the point where, every second or third new or full moon, we were reaching levels that were consistent with minor flooding,” he said. “We were worried about warning fatigue.”
Since 1959, the sea level at the Atlantic City recording station at the end of Steel Pier has risen about 9 inches, according to National Data Buoy Center data. The rise is due to a combination of sea level rise related to global warming and the slight sinking of coastal land along parts of the eastern seaboard, including South Jersey, Szatkowski said.
Other local weather service offices in coastal areas already have implemented a similar change for their regions, he said.
Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management Director Vince Jones said he and other emergency management officials in coastal counties received a survey from the weather service regarding details about how advisories for tidal flooding are issued. Jones said the new threshold means that the minor flooding advisories will be issued only if there will be a widespread impact that affects travel in low-lying areas.
Jones said the changes are important because it will help residents and visitors better prioritize pending conditions because they won’t necessarily dismiss an advisory as nuisance flooding that occurs regularly. The current advisory system puts out a broad warning when flooding may occur only on a few back bay roads or highly prone areas, such as the Black Horse Pike in West Atlantic City, he said.
“When you put out that broad advisory, not specific to any one area, people tend to ignore it,” Jones said. “Complacency kills us every time. It’s our worst enemy.”
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