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Changes in the Gulf Stream could become part of the weather forecast

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A small boat leaves the harbor into the ocean early morning Tuesday, August 21, 2018. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

Sunny day flooding used to be a rarity in Charleston and many other seacoast cities. Where Charleston saw just a day or two of tidal flooding a year in the 1960s, now it sees as many as 50. 

“In June 2009, we had flooded communities up and down the East Coast, and we wondered what was going on?” said William Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland.

He and his colleagues looked at tidal gauges and changes in the Gulf Stream flow. They noticed a correlation: When the Gulf Stream slowed down, sea levels along the East Coast went up — sometimes as much as a half-foot above normal.

His and other research showed that temporary changes in the Gulf Stream have a ripple effect on sea levels along the East Coast. 

Sweet calls the larger issue of whether the Gulf Stream is slowing “a beautiful, muddled problem” — one that raises pressing questions for scientists and coastal residents alike. 

“We’re at the point in many cities where sea levels are now at the brim — where literally inches matter.”


For a deeper dive into the Gulf Stream and the amazing and disturbing things happening to it, visit our new special report: Into the Gulf Stream

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Reach Tony Bartelme at 843-937-5554. Follow him on Twitter @tbartelme.

Tony Bartelme is senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier. He has earned national honors from the Nieman, Scripps, Loeb and National Press foundations and is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reach him at 843-937-5554 and @tbartelme

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