The Virginia shoreline can be fragile. Despite its ability to take a beating during a hurricane, the constant force of coastal erosion is gradually changing the shape of the shore, altering flood maps, and putting communities at risk.
Learn how coastal erosion is changing Virginia beaches from the shores of the Potomac River to the Chesapeake Bay coastline and the Atlantic coast near Virginia Beach.
What’s the History of Erosion in Virginia?
Erosion is nothing new. One early example of Virginia’s battle against erosion is exemplified with the construction and reconstruction of the Cape Charles Lighthouse in Northampton County.
The lighthouse was first built in 1828. With erosion rates averaging 30 feet per year, it had to be replaced after just 36 years with a new lighthouse farther inland. Erosion continued at a rate of 37 feet per year despite attempts to slow erosion with stone jetties. The second lighthouse lasted just 30 years before a third lighthouse needed to be built. This one was nearly a mile inland, far away from the eroding shore.
For property owners along the Virginia shore, this type of rebuilding every 30 years could have significant financial consequences, making it essential for homeowners to understand the effects of erosion and flood damage.
What Will the Virginia Coast Look Like in 80 Years?
In the coming decades, coastal erosion will dramatically change the shape of the Virginia shoreline. The sea is slowly carrying away sand and carving into the earth.
Over time, the seemingly slow process of erosion will add up to big changes.
To learn more about how erosion will change the coast in years to come, the Joint Research Center of the European Commission completed an in-depth peer-reviewed study modeling how erosion will change the U.S. shores. The analysis compiled 35 years of satellite imagery, 82 years of climate data, and input from 100 million storm simulations.
The results reveal that the mid-Atlantic coast is especially vulnerable to erosion with a quarter of the country’s worst coastal erosion sites located in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Some areas of Virginia will be especially hard hit.
Which Virginia Shorelines Will Have the Worst Erosion?
Erosion does not happen evenly. Some beaches will see a bigger impact based on several factors including the way the waves hit the shore, the shape of the sea floor, the height of the dunes, and more.
When researchers modeled how the coast will look at the end of the century, they found that these beaches will see the biggest changes.
Worst Coastal Erosion in Virginia (Average Shoreline Erosion in 80 Years)
- Poquoson, VA: -681 yards
- Accomack County, VA: -338 yards
- Northumberland County, VA: -335 yards
- Mathews County, VA: -246 yards
- King George County, VA: -242 yards
- Northampton County, VA: -233 yards
Keep in mind that these figures are baseline shore levels. When a hurricane hits these locations without the current shoreline protection, the flooding would be unprecedented.
CSSPAR scientists modeled what a storm like Hurricane Isabel would be like 70 years in the future. Old Town Alexandria, VA, would be 10 feet underwater. Virginia Beach resorts would be economically damaged. Navy yards and highways would be flooded.
How Are Variable Erosion Rates Distributed in Virginia?
Each water system will be affected in different ways.
At the top of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., and Manassas, the shoreline will lose about 144 yards. That’s more than the 110 yards of erosion in Virginia Beach, which is directly exposed to the Atlantic.
On the other hand, coastal erosion will affect the shores of the James River much differently. The shores near Richmond in Hopewell County will only lose five yards of shore in 80 years. These inland areas may have some protection, but analysts predict significant erosion closer to the river’s mouth. Suffolk County will lose 229 yards of shore, and Newport News will lose 180 yards.
The only areas that are far out of the reach of the Atlantic’s waves and tides are inland cities like Roanoke and Appomattox.
Why Is Coastal Erosion So Bad in Poquoson, VA?
Poquoson, VA, ranks as the fourth worst place in the county for erosion, and it faces the most extreme erosion on the Eastern seaboard. It’s surrounded on three sides by water, and homes in the area don’t have basements because the ground is already saturated.
The primary issue contributing to Poquoson’s erosion is land elevation. The marshy shore is prone to tidal flooding. Some areas are less than five feet above sea level, and about 90 percent of Poquoson is within the 100-year floodplain.
The flat topography also makes the Poquoson peninsula vulnerable to sea-level rise, and the map below shows that two feet of sea-level rise will submerge most of the town. This projected sea-level rise is not the worst-case scenario. That’s the moderate rate that Chesapeake Bay organizations expect to see by the end of the century.
Attribution: Climate Central
For the 12,500 people who live on Poquoson, most homes are less than eight feet above sea level. Residents already watch the weather and the moon and take steps to elevate and protect valuables when bad weather approaches. After a nor’easter, buildings can be flooded with knee-deep water.
A former NASA manager, Doug Dwoyer, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that in 50 to 100 years,
“I think it’s gone.” However, homeowners are still looking generations into the future.
Will Coastal Erosion Cause Widespread Flooding?
As erosion changes the coastline in the coming decades, Virginia homeowners could be more vulnerable to flooding, including overflowing waterways, bigger tides, and more severe storm surges. As area water systems are reimagined, homes throughout the coastal watershed could be at risk.
Homeowners who take preventive action with flood protection could see long-lasting benefits, potentially providing financial security and peace of mind.
For example, a one-inch flood in a home can result in $25,000 worth of damages. Comparatively, water protection systems like a sump pump, waterproofing, or flood vents are smart investments that can mitigate damage and help you protect your investment.
Want to learn more about the best way to protect your home from flooding? Schedule a free inspection and repair estimate from JES Foundation Repair, the region’s leaders in home waterproofing.