Surging Seas Sea level rise analysis by Climate Central

Alabama and the Surging Sea

Description: A vulnerability assessment with projections for sea level rise and coastal flood risk.
Date: August 2015

Full PDF of Report

Executive Summary

Low-range sea level projections lead to an even chance of floods exceeding 6 feet above the high tide line by
mid-century at sites across Alabama’s coastline, exposing more than $8 billion in today’s property. Under midrange projections, floods exceeding today’s historic records are likely to take place within the next 55 to 65 years. Under high-range projections, there is a roughly 2 in 3 chance of floods above 10 feet by end of century, exposing more than $17 billion. Higher floods are possible, with lower probability.

We find that in Alabama, some $8.2 billion in property value, plus nearly 13,500 people living in more than 14,000 homes, sit on 323 square miles of land less than 6 feet above the local high tide line. The exposure of populations with high social vulnerability is disproportionately high, 85% greater than would be expected by chance alone. Of the exposed property, more than 90% is in Baldwin County, and 87% is in two zip codes, Orange Beach (36561) and Gulf Shores (36542). Compared to 6 feet, more than double the total property, population and housing sit on land below 10 feet: $17.1 billion and nearly 33,000 people in nearly 31,000 homes, across 448 square miles.

Nonresidential buildings and infrastructure are widely at risk as well. All told, 290 miles of road lie on land below 6 feet in the state; 2 libraries; 2 schools; 15 houses of worship; and 199 EPA-listed sites, screened to include mostly hazardous waste sites, facilities with significant hazardous materials, and wastewater generators. At 10 feet, these numbers amount to 657 miles of road, 3 libraries, 4 schools, 50 houses of worship, and 309 EPA-listed sites. In addition, 1 oil refinery sits on land less than 10 feet above the local high tide line. Sea levels are rising at an accelerating rate, and the scientific community is confident that global warming is

the most important cause. Higher sea levels translate to more and higher coastal floods. To forecast future risk, this analysis integrates historic local sea level trends and flood statistics with global sea level rise scenarios, developed by a multi-agency federal task force led by NOAA in support of the recent U.S. National Climate Assessment.

This report is being released as a high-level summary of findings and methods, coincident with the online launch of a Surging Seas Risk Finder tool for the state, providing much more detailed and localized findings, and accessible via

The tool includes: 

  • Interactive local projections of sea level rise and increasing coastal flood risk from 1-10 feet by decade;
  • A zooming, zip-searchable map of low-lying areas threatened, plus layers showing social vulnerability, population density and property value;
  • Detailed assessments of populations, property, infrastructure and contamination sources exposed, for each implicated county, city, town, zip code, planning district, legislative district and more;
  • State- and county-wide heat maps facilitating high-level vulnerability comparisons; and
  • Brief customized “fast look” reports that integrate key findings from across all analyses for each locality, and provide interpretation and context.

Detailed knowledge of vulnerability is a critical tool for communities seeking to build resiliency to the climate challenges of today and the future.