Experts warn of growing risks to heavily populated coastlines

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trillions of dollars' worth of U.S. coastal development and military installations are at risk from powerful storms and sea level rise, a panel of experts warned at a congressional briefing today. They said that continued investments into accurate and timely weather forecasts and long-term understanding of the Earth system are vital for saving lives and protecting property in densely populated coastal regions, both in the United States and overseas.

The panelists highlighted new research into the interaction of the ocean, atmosphere, and land at the coastline. This work is improving our understanding of weather patterns and coastal inundation that bring damaging impacts from wind and water.

The briefing was sponsored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a nonprofit consortium of 117 colleges and universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related sciences.

"Our coasts are the critical intersection between fast-growing and economically important communities and some of the most destructive and difficult-to-predict weather systems on the planet," said UCAR President Antonio Busalacchi. "We need to look at the entire Earth system and how the ocean, atmosphere, and land interact in complex ways that can spawn powerful storms and extreme flooding."

Busalacchi, an expert on the ocean's influence on weather and climate patterns, noted that hurricanes have numerous and often overlapping impacts, including high winds, storm surge, and torrential flooding. This year alone, hurricanes Michael and Florence caused dozens of deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damages, both along the coast and in low-lying inland regions vulnerable to flooding. The military also was not immune: Hurricane Michael's catastrophic winds battered Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, home to advanced F-22 stealth fighter jets.

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