ASTOR, Fla. – Sea level rise along the Central Florida coast could impact residents who live inland, and it could get worse if the region experiences a major hurricane.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in February that ocean waters were rising faster than previously thought.
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NOAA researchers projected a 1-foot rise in sea level by the year 2050 – the same rise measured over the last 100 years.
According to NOAA data, that 1-foot rise could push up the St. Johns River, which flows right through the town of Astor, an area that is no stranger to flooding.
Terry Holland gave News 6 a tour of flooded neighborhoods that followed Hurricane Irma in 2017 as he checked on his fellow residents.
“I’ve been here for a couple of hurricanes,” he said then. “This is the worst.”
Five years later, Holland, who is a pastor at First Baptist Church of Astor, recalled the command center that was set up in his church offices.
“It was kind of thrust upon us,” he said. “It wasn’t something that we had planned for. It was just something that happened.”
NOAA data shows a 1-foot rise in sea level could result in the St. Johns River overflowing in some areas, covering what are now streets.
“I’ve walked in that area hunting. All of that is going to be under water? That’s going to be pretty serious,” said Holland, as he looked printed map projections.
“Is it eye opening? Yes. Surprising? No,” News 6 meteorologist Jonathan Kegges said.
Kegges said the prediction for Astor could get worse if a major storm moves through.
“The scary part about this is now, a Category 1 storm could do what a Category 3 storm would do in terms of storm surge,” he said.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told News 6 he sees that possibility as well.
“You can see not just higher amounts of storm surge, but (see those impacts) farther inland,” he said. “Farther in your rivers and farther inland associated with that storm surge.”
A possible solution
News 6 investigated and found out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan that could protect Astor from more flooding.
Spokesman David Ruderman said a team in Jacksonville has visited Astor and has submitted a proposal to conduct a study to determine which areas are most prone to be flooded by the St. Johns River.
Once those areas are determined, he said, state and federal agencies would collaborate on finding a solution to the problem.
He said this will take time.
The proposal is being considered right now with a decision on funding the study due in July.
If approved, the study would be funded in October.
Holland said he’s concerned about what could happen if things don’t move quicker.
“I don’t know that we would be ready for (a storm) unless there was some planning done ahead of time and some precautions taken ahead of time,” he said.