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Extra-high tides offer a glimpse into the future as sea level rises

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a story now of extra-high tides. When the moon and sun line up in a certain way, you can get a higher tide than normal in places like Rhode Island, which is where we're about to go. And climate change is making those extra-high tides even worse, offering a glimpse of our future. From Rhode Island Public Radio, Sofie Rudin reports.

SOFIE RUDIN, BYLINE: All right. So I've arrived in Wickford. I'm in the Brown Street parking lot. It's about half an hour before high tide. It's a really crisp fall morning, blue sky, a couple clouds, and the water is coming up. It's filling the parking lot like a bathtub. I'm here to meet Teresa Crean, who's with URI's Coastal Resources Center.

TERESA CREAN: High tide is in three minutes.

RUDIN: (Laughter).

CREAN: This is a high tide, an extreme high tide, so this one's higher than we've seen all fall. And the water in this storm drain is actually coming up from underneath. So there is a connection of this storm drain out to the Wickford Harbor.

RUDIN: Teresa Crean's been coming to this spot in North Kingstown for over a decade to keep tabs on the flooding.

CREAN: We've seen fish swimming. I always look for fish to see if any fish made it in.

RUDIN: The tide is especially high today because of the position of the moon. As global warming causes sea level to rise, high tide flooding is becoming more common. Coastal communities nationwide saw twice as many high tide flooding days this past year as they did 20 years ago, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And it's going to get worse.

CREAN: You know, this represents what we are expecting on a daily basis, you know, possibly 10 or 20 years from now.

RUDIN: On this day, the floodwaters crest just a dozen feet from a small building that houses the Harbor View Artisans co-op.

NERINGA AIELLO: It happens quite often. Like, probably every couple of weeks - right? - like, we have it.

RUDIN: This is Neringa Aiello, one of the co-op's founders. She says the building flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but hasn't since.

AIELLO: But it seems like it stays dry in here and just parking lot floods up. So - but it goes down pretty quickly, too, when the tide is going out. So we're used to it, you know? It doesn't scare us anymore where at first we would be like, oh, my gosh (laughter).

RUDIN: But are you worried about sea level rise and it coming closer over time?

AIELLO: Yes, of course. But, you know, hopefully we don't know how many years we're all going to be here.

RUDIN: So far, she says, it isn't keeping customers away, but the repeated floods have damaged the parking lot. North Kingstown is planning on raising the level of the parking lot and building a taller wall around the lot's outer edge. And they'll modify the storm drain to keep seawater from coming up into the lot at high tide. The changes are expected to cost more than $370,000, and planners say this isn't their only problem area. A couple of feet of sea level rise would flood evacuation routes, cutting the Wickford neighborhood off from the rest of town. For NPR News, I'm Sofie Rudin in Providence.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK'S "COMPLICATIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.