Rising Sea Levels Are a Stark Reality for the Hampton Roads Region

Nov 18, 2016

To those living on Virginia’s coastlines, discussions of climate change are no longer theoretical. Rising sea levels has real impact, right now. A report released this week by researchers at William and Mary predicts climate change could cost the Hampton Roads area more than $100 million in damages EACH year, if nothing is done. 

In recent years, officials in Norfolk have installed road signs with giant rulers on them, so in certain low-lying streets people can tell how high floodwaters are, before they risk driving through.

“So these coastal localities are definitely experiencing flooding events today.”

Elizabeth Andrews is Director of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at William and Mary.

“And now even a substantial rainstorm event will result in flooding of low-lying areas, and especially during high-tide events.”

And that increased flooding comes with a cost. If nothing is done, Andrews and her colleague George Van Houtven estimate the cost of annual flood damages could triple by 2060.

Van Houtven says when floods damage businesses it doesn’t just hurt those individual business owners.

A car plows through a flooded street in the Ocean View area in Norfolk following "Superstorm" Sandy in 2012.
Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

“The combined effect is lower incomes; lower purchasing power, which then can also obviously reduce tax revenues in different areas of the state. What we found was that the largest economic impacts would certainly be in the Hampton Roads region. There would also be ripple effects into the rest of the Virginia economy, although those would be relatively small.”

Hampton Roads represents 20-percent of Virginia’s total economy, income and population.