Surging Seas Sea level rise analysis by Climate Central

North Carolina and the Surging Sea

Description: A vulnerability assessment with projections for sea level rise and coastal flood risk.
Date: July, 15 2014 

Full PDF of Report

Executive Summary

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. Under mid-range projections, floods exceeding today’s historic records are likely to take place throughout North Carolina within the next 50 years.

Low-range sea level projections lead to an at least 50 percent chance of floods exceeding 4 feet above the high tide line this century, at all sites assessed. Mid-range projections translate to better than 50 percent chances by 2050 at Beaufort and to the north. Under high-range projections, there is an at least 50 percent chance of floods above 8 feet at all study sites by end of century. Higher floods are possible, with lower probability.

2,045 square miles of land lie less than 4 feet above the high tide line in North Carolina, mostly in Hyde, Tyrrell and Dare counties. Some $8.8 billion in property value – mostly in New Hanover and Brunswick counties – and 61,000 homes sit on this area. These figures jump to $20.8 billion and 133,000 homes on 2,958 square miles of land under 8 feet.

The state has an astonishing more than 2,500 miles of road below 4 feet, plus 15 schools; 108 houses of worship; and 131 EPA-listed sites such as hazardous waste dumps and sewage plants. At 8 feet, these numbers grow to more than 5,000 miles of road, 45 schools, 233 houses of worship, and 267 EPA-listed sites.

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.