Surging Seas Sea level rise analysis by Climate Central

Virginia and the Surging Sea

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

Full PDF of Report

Executive Summary

Floods exceeding today’s historic records are likely to take place within the next 20 to 30 years at sites across Virginia under mid-range sea level rise projections. Low-range projections lead to a more than even chance of floods exceeding 5 feet above the high tide line in the same time frame for the Washington, DC and Hampton Roads areas, and by 2080 on the eastern shore and near the mouth of the Potomac Under high-range projections, at each site in this study there is a more than 90% chance of flooding above 9 feet this century.

250,000 acres of land lie less than 5 feet above the high tide line in Virginia. Some $17.4 billion in property value, and 54,000 homes with 107,000 residents, sit on this area. These figures jump to $54.8 billion and 200,000 homes with 466,000 residents on 490,000 acres of land under 9 feet.

The state has 1,469 miles of road below 5 feet, plus 7 schools; 67 houses of worship; 1 power plant; and 148 EPA-listed sites such as hazardous waste dumps and sewage plants. At 9 feet, these numbers grow to 4,500 miles of road, 77 schools, 325 houses of worship, 5 power plants, and 535 EPA-listed sites.

More than 10%, 30% and 40% of Norfolk Naval Station, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, respectively, lie on land below 5 feet, with varying reductions after accounting for potential protection or isolation. The same facilities lie mostly or completely below 9 feet.

Delmarva as a whole includes some 183,000 people, 116,000 homes, $42 billion in property value, 3,400 miles of roads, and 401 EPA-listed sites on 582,000 acres of unprotected land below 5 feet. At this level, Virginia faces roughly twice the threat of any of its Delmarva neighbors for population and a third more homes, but, by small margins, Maryland faces greater threats to property value, road miles and EPA-listed sites. At 9 feet, Virginia has the most exposure for all of these variables.

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.