Iconic 100-Year-Old Fishing Shacks Washed Into Sea as Maine High Tide Breaks All-Time Record

“Mother nature isn’t messing around.”

By Jon Queally. Published 1-13-2024 by Common Dreams

Iconic fishing shacks at Willard Beach in South Portland, Maine were washed into the sea Saturday as the high tide broke an all-time record. (Photo: Shyler Lewis)

From New York City to the coast of Maine, record-breaking high tides in part fueled by the climate crisis brought destruction to the U.S. northeast on Saturday with roads flooded, infrastructure destroyed, and historic buildings washed out to sea—a horrifying preview of what scientists say will become all the more frequent if humanity continues its refusal to end the era of fossil fuels.

In downtown Portland, Maine the areas along the harbor and waterfront piers were inundated with unprecedented flooding. The city’s vibrant Old Port was underwater in many places with extensive damage to buildings, businesses, and infrastructure.

Across the harbor in nearby South Portland, locals expressed heartbreak as a threesome of iconic fishing shacks that have survived nearly 100 years were washed into the sea.

After the first shack was gone, the other two did not last much longer.

While a storm system was blowing through southern Maine, bringing heavy winds and rain, the region has experienced much larger and powerful storms. According to WGME, the local CBS affiliate, “The Portland tide gauge settled out at 14.57 feet. That’s the highest tide ever recorded in Portland.”

Major coastline flooding was also reported in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

In its 2023 Annual High Tide Flooding Outlook, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned last August that coastal flooding from major high tides was on the rise due to climate change and increasing ocean levels and predicted that the trend would continue into 2024.

“High tide flooding is becoming increasingly common due to continued sea level rise, driven in part by climate change,” NOAA explained. “It occurs when tides reach anywhere between 1 to 2 feet above the daily average high tide, depending on location. As sea level rise continues, it no longer takes severe weather to cause disruptive flooding along the coast.”

Jainey Bavishi, assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA deputy administrator, said at the time that communities nationwide “are seeing more and more high tide flooding, with damaging effects to transportation systems and infrastructure” and they can expect to see more due to sea level rise and the impact of El Nino.

The coastal flooding in the northeast—which brought unseasonal heavy rains in regions much more accustomed to snow this time of year—came as the central states of the country experienced icy cold temperatures due the polar vortex phenomenon that scientists also attribute to the climate crisis.

Collin Rees, the U.S. program manager for Oil Change International, told Common Dreams that what people are seeing and experiencing in terms of such weather events is what the climate movement has been warning about for decades.

“Record floods and high tides across the Northeast are a taste of a coming world with more and more brutal extreme weather events,” said Rees, who lives in Maine. “These tragedies must serve as a wake-up call to President Biden to rapidly phase out oil, gas, and coal and invest in resilient communities.”

“As seaside huts wash into the ocean in Maine, Iowa is preparing to caucus in an all-time deep freeze as blizzards and record-low temps sweep the country,” he added. “Deadly climate impacts will continue to mount until our leaders treat the climate crisis like the emergency it is.”

A 2022 study warned that hundreds of thousands of homes in the U.S. would be gobbled up by rising seas by 2050 unless more aggressive efforts were taken to curb emissions and put a check on global temperatures.

“Sea level rise is shifting the high and low tide lines that coastal states use to define boundaries between public and private property,” said Climate Central, the group behind the study which analyzed NOAA data. “As these boundaries shift, private property will be lost to permanent coastal flooding.”

“Sea level rise disaster is closer than we thought,” said climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck in response to the analysis.

On Saturday, people living near the coast in the U.S. northeast saw it right up close.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

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