After days of severe flooding in Virginia Beach, many wonder if it’s the new normal

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VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (WAVY) — After severe flooding brought much of the city’s south side to a halt the last few days, many are left wanting to know if this is something they should expect to see more of. 

Flood warnings were issued for much of the Virginia/North Carolina coastline Tuesday and Wednesday as rain coupled with south wind tides caused flood waters to rise several feet in much of the Back Bay area. 

“It’s more than I think I’ve ever seen,” on Virginia Beach resident told 10 On Your Side. “Sometimes it’s like this after a hurricane but it runs off fairly quickly. But it doesn’t seem to be running off very fast.”

Wednesday night Virginia Beach kicked off its Sea Level Rise Symposium at Tidewater Community College. Councilwomen Barbara Henley, whose district was affected most by the recent floodwaters, helped organize the event months ago.

“Wow! We certainly didn’t expect this,” Henley said when asked about the event timing. She said she certainly never expected the event to coincide with the actual issue.

Kurt McCoy, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, and William Sammler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service spoke to nearly 200 people who showed up to hoping to hear what science predicts for the communities flooding future.

Audible gasps could be heard after one of Sammler’s facts.

“For those of you who like to say you have lived through hurricanes here,” Sammler said. “I have to inform you of the fact that Hampton Roads has not experienced true hurricane winds in decades.”

Sammler explained the stronger the storm, the stronger the storm surge. However, he didn’t get into the topic of more rain events occurring. 

Rather, Sammler and McCoy displayed data from past storms and pointed to the correlation of the saturated ground and flooding events. 

“For some reason, the water is sticking around longer,” Sammler said at one point. 

Both Sammler and McCoy tried to make it clear that they were not here to make recommendations to the Virginia Beach government on what to do. 

“The flooding issue is a multiple variable problem and there are a number of contributors,” McCoy said. “Whether that is changes in atmospheric deposition or land use changes, we use those to explain changes in hydrology.”

The city is working to develop its 5-year plan, named the Comprehensive Sea Level Rise and Recurrent Flooding Analysis and Planning Study. It started the plan in 2015 to provide a blueprint for flood resiliency. The plan features a three-phase approach: to assess current problems, find ways to reduce risk and increase resiliency.

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