| Climate Preparedness, GRC | 08.08.19

With nowhere to hide from rising seas, Boston prepares for a wetter future

The coastal city is taking the hint from recent storms and floods


Boston dodged a disaster in 2012. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York, the superstorm hit Boston near low tide, causing minimal damage. If Sandy had arrived four hours earlier, many Bostonians would have been ankle to hip deep in seawater.

Across the globe, sea levels are rising, delivering bigger storm surges and higher tides to coastal cities. In Boston, the most persistent reminder comes in the form of regular “nuisance” flooding — when seawater spills onto roads and sidewalks during high tides. Those nuisance events are harbingers of a wetter future, when extreme high tides are predicted to become a daily occurrence.

“The East Coast has been riding a post-Sandy mentality of preparing and responding before the next big one,” says Robert Freudenberg, an environmental planner at the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy firm based in New York City. But a more enduring kind of threat looms. “Sea level rise is the flooding that doesn’t go away,” he says. “Not that far in the future, some of our most developed places may be permanently inundated.”

And Boston, for one, is not waiting to get disastrously wet to act. In the seven years since Hurricane Sandy’s close call, the city-run Climate Ready Boston initiative has devised a comprehensive, science-driven master plan to protect infrastructure, property and people from the increasingly inevitable future of storm surges and rising seas. The famously feisty city intends to be ready for the next Sandy as well as the nuisance tides that promise to become the new normal, while other U.S. coastal cities are trying to keep up.

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