‘King tides’ could be norm

LIHUE — Kalei Chase, Craig Heiser and Bob Warren spent Thursday morning working on a catamaran in Nawiliwili Small Boat Harbor and watching the water level rise.

Levels really started coming up at noon, Chase said, and by 2 p.m. the water level at harbor was already at 2.05 feet according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Thursday’s peak was forecasted for 2.447 feet at about 4:30 p.m. by NOAA.

It’s the beginning of the “king tides” that are arriving around the islands, and experts say the tides could be a good preview of water level norms in the future.

The peak of the tides is set for 5 p.m. today — at about the same time a swell is set to hit the south side of the island. The tides are projected to continue through Monday.

King tides are a natural process annually from May through July, said Chip Fletcher, associate dean of the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, but global sea level rise is adding another layer to the phenomenon.

“As a result of last year’s El Nino, we still have high waters and it’s stacking a lot of different factors so that will push up the water level as well,” Fletcher said. “And that’s how sea level rise will hit us at first; it’ll be an unlucky confluence of events (that will cause impacts).”

As time goes on and sea levels continue to rise, Fletcher said experts predict sea levels to accelerate and it “won’t take such bad luck (to cause damage), it’ll happen as a natural course of affairs.”

“By mid-century, high tide will cause flooding, and the highest tides of the year will be a major problem,” Fletcher said.

Experts predict a possible water level rise of a foot above normal at the peak of the king tides coming later this week.

“King tides bring unusually high water levels, resulting in local flooding that can leave schools of juvenile fishes to die on roads, parking lots and other hard structures,” said Kim Peyton, estuaries and coastal habitat research scientist for the state’s Department of Aquatic Resources.

The most recent king tides hit Hawaii on April 28, and water covered lawns, roads and slammed into retaining walls on Oahu.

Kauai Emergency Management Agency didn’t receive any reports of damage last month, however.

Impacts anticipated this weekend are likely to be greatest on shorelines exposed to south swells that have experienced flooding or erosion in the past, according to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. Flooding impacts in June and July will be greatest if king tides coincide with a high-wave event, storm, and/or rain. The high tides may back up storm drains in low-lying coastal areas.

And while citizens who live in low-lying areas are encouraged to prepare by moving water-sensitive belongings to the second floor, the Hawaii Sea Grant Center for Coastal and Climate Science and Resilience is asking for some help with citizen science.

The Hawaii and Pacific Islands King Tides Citizen Science project is documenting related impacts caused by the king tides and island residents can help by submitting photos online through the program’s smartphone app or on the website.

For more information: http://ccsr.seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/king-tides.

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