The Collins Canal near 17th Street and Dade Boulevard during the 2016 king tide. (Courtesy of Galen Treuer)


It’s not going away. This flooding is our future.

Sam Van Leer founded Urban Paradise Guild in 2008 to protect Miami’s future from sea level rise and serves as its president. UPG engages the community in policy initiatives and has volunteer opportunities.

Courtesy of Sam Van Leer

Most folks already know about king tides, but what we are experiencing this week is much more extreme than normal king tides. We need to pay close attention, because they provide us with a window into the future of South Florida.

King tides and sea-level rise: the new normal

There have always been king tides, which are naturally occurring seasonal extreme high tides. Our sea walls and infrastructure were designed to keep these natural tides at bay. Several decades ago, most people barely noticed them.

Sea level rise of about a foot in the last century has changed all that. Old seawalls and drainage systems can’t keep out these extreme high tides. With saltwater flooding Miami streets, not just the coastal areas, residents can’t ignore sea level rise during king tides — especially not this month.

Super king tides: When Gulf Stream and winds go head-to-head

The Gulf Stream’s massive flow of warm water embraces South Florida, making our city more tropical than our sub-tropical latitude could. Though larger than all the rivers on earth combined, the steady force of wind blowing on it can affect it greatly.

This month the winds created by Hurricanes Matthew and Nicole have blown almost completely from the northeast for 10 days, pushing back against the strong Gulf Stream currents which flow up from the south. The battle piled the Gulf Stream’s water up against Miami’s coastline. Tides up to 1.3 feet higher than forecast for this king tide have been recorded.

Take a look at the NOAA table below. There is a huge difference between the forecast tide (blue) and NOAA’s preliminary observations (red, recorded up to Sunday evening, with a few gaps where no data were recorded).

Now take a look at this one. Normally, observed tides are nearly identical to the forecast, as you can see here.

What can we learn about our city’s future from today’s unusual tides?

Sea level rise is the gravest threat that Miami faces. In a decade or two, we can expect ordinary king tides to rise to today’s super-king water levels. A decade or two later, everyday high tides may be at this level. The exact timeline is hard to predict, but the outcome is certain.

I founded Urban Paradise Guild (UPG) to take on sea level rise, and I am obsessed with Miami’s survival.

Miami must take aggressive actions. Scientists have warned us for decades, but few meaningful actions have been taken.

We must begin to transform ourselves into a sustainable society. This won’t be easy or happen overnight. It begins with what we expect from the officials we elect to represent us. It continues with how we live as individuals. We must hold politicians – and ourselves – to much higher standards.

Miami must get serious about green infrastructure. In the past century, we have wiped out uncounted mangroves which protected our coastlines and inland areas from storm-surge. In the era of sea level rise, we need them more than ever. The increasing rate of sea level rise is likely to outpace the rate of natural mangrove recruitment, so many coastlines will be unprotected in the future. UPG has plans for this: develop new methods of planting red mangroves at higher elevations. With funding I believe we can.  

What you can do:

  • Vote no on Amendment 1 on Nov. 8! This “Fake Solar” Amendment is a power grab by FPL and other big energy companies which rely on fracking to generate most of the power they sell.
  • Don’t vote for climate change deniers. When climate change deniers (or obstructionists) are voted into office, we get inaction. The State of Florida implemented an unwritten but official policy of deleting the words “climate change” from all official documents. Polluters and power monopolies pay off elected officials who allow pollution that is literally drowning our city, and their obstruction prevents us from getting more funding for meaningful actions.
  • Join the Miami People’s Climate March on Oct. 23 in Downtown Miami, and send a strong message that we demand real action on climate change resilience, not just words on the cover of the budget that pretends at resilience. 

Urban Paradise Guild founded the Miami People’s Climate March in 2014, and UPG is a founding member of the Miami Climate Alliance (MCA), which organized the 2015 and 2016 marches. To join the Miami Clean Energy Revolution, fill out our questionaire. To learn about UPG, visit our website or find us on Facebook.

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