(1st three photos from Monday, by Nick Adams for WSB)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
We have just learned that yesterday morning’s highest water level – the combination of high tide and “storm surge” – wasn’t just high, it was historic – the highest level ever recorded in Seattle.
The word comes from Seattle Public Utilities, which has to track this closely because of the effects storms and high tides can and do have on their facilities – look closely to see the water coming OUT of this manhole on Beach Drive, instead of going in:
And SPU meteorologist James Rufo-Hill tells WSB it’s likely “a harbinger of things to come.” More from our interview, ahead:
The storm surge is related to the atmospheric pressure “low” moving through with a storm – and Rufo-Hill tells us this could have been even worse; the highest storm surge of the day was actually around the early-morning LOW tide, and it was half a foot higher than what was happening during the 8:17 am high “king tide” on Monday. Not to mention, Rufo-Hill points out, it was “a good storm but not a huge storm.”
He says preliminary data from NOAA, from the official recording station at Colman Dock downtown, beat Seattle’s highest water level by a quarter of an inch – and that’s in the records going back to 1898. “The sea level has risen by more than six inches in the century and is going to accelerate due to global warming, so yesterday’s tide level will be common by mid-century.”
Rufo-Hill works with the SPU Wastewater Operations group, forecasting rainfall and runoff – and the tide plays into that, if it gets to a level affecting their system’s ability to handle water. Most of yesterday’s effects, he says, “were due to tides and not runoff,” even though the area did get a half-inch of rain as well. Since the high water meant water was “coming off the pipes,” he says there were “ponds throughout the city” created by that, including some on Harbor Island he says they could even see from SPU’s high-rise headquarters downtown. “As flooding due to wind and waves becomes more common, flooding up through our pipes will become more common.”
The basic high tide was 12.9 feet; the “anomaly storm surge” at the time, a foot and a half above that, combining for a 14.51-foot high-water mark measured at Colman Dock. (The previous record high was on January 27, 1983.)
Storm surges can be a lot worse, Rufo-Hill pointed out: “For comparison, Hurricane Sandy gave New York a nine-foot storm surge.”
Because of the high water, which saw residents like those in our photo working hard to pump and sweep the water away, SPU also helped out on Beach Drive and in South Park. But helping on the spot won’t be enough at some point in the future – “it’s going to take a citywide effort” to prepare for future high-water events, Rufo-Hill believes.
(This photo and next one from Monday, by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
And we might not have to wait long for those future events: “Now that this has happened, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen a couple more times this decade.”
And if the next round of “king tides” in January coincide with a storm, Rufo-Hill plans to head out this way and watch potential history in person.
See comprehensive WSB coverage – video and photos – of the historic high water, here.