Wilmington, N.C. — Low tide in Wilmington is set for 5:29 p.m. Thursday, one of the lowest of the year because of the position of the Moon and Earth.
In a few weeks each year, when the moon is new or full and closest to Earth, the coast experiences “king tides,” also called perigean spring tides, which are the most extreme tides of the year.
The tides cause flooding in some areas and stronger currents that can endanger swimmers.
“It’s going to drop off fast and it’s going to be really deep, so I would be really cautious about that,” said Carolina beach head lifeguard Patrick Furbay.
The elevated tidal cycle is naturally occurring. The latest king tide is set to end Friday. There were two other king tides this year: May 15-19 and June 12-16.
However, with rising sea levels, what are now extremes could also offer a preview of normal tides in the future.
“We might dismiss them as only being a few times a year, but, increasingly, that’s going to be weekly to daily disruptions to our daily lives,” said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assistant professor Miyuki Hino.
The NC King Tides Project is encouraging people to share pictures from the coast. The pictures can help visualize future sea levels. The project is part of the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.
Some experts have a growing concern that coastal drainage systems will fill with sea water, making the impact of adverse weather events even more brutal.
“When we see rain causing flooding, it might actually also be caused partly by sea levels being higher than normal,” Hino said.
Many coastal communities, including those along the Outer Banks, are already seeing the impact of sea level rise. In May, two unoccupied Rodanthe homes collapsed into the ocean.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sea level rise is accelerating. NOAA forecasters are predicting a 1-foot sea level rise in the next 30 years. It is the same amount that scientists have seen in the past century.
There is also a push to cut greenhouse gas emissions to slow the flow of rising waters.
“We expect that it’s going to get worse unless we act,” Hino said.
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