Wading into the Atlantic over the weekend off Sullivan’s Island, S.C., I was stunned by the warmth of the water. At times the waves crashing over us felt almost … hot.
I wasn’t just imagining things. The water temperature was 86 degrees, according to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another website I consulted suggested that ocean temperatures near Charleston get up to around 82 degrees in the summer, so that’s not too much above normal. But what’s considered “normal” in any given year has been edging upward in recent decades, according to a report by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Later, walking along the waterfront in Charleston Harbor, taking in all that glorious history and architecture, I couldn’t help wondering how things will look here a few decades from now as the water level rises. They don’t call this the “low country” for nothing; driving around town our GPS had often indicated we were below sea level. Our daughter’s friend A.J., who was giving us a rundown of all the historical sites he’s explored this summer, noted that large sections of Fort Johnson, which fired the shots on Fort Sumter that started the Civil War, were mostly underwater when he visited.
It’s encouraging to discover that while some people continue to deny climate change, this coastal city is aggressively tackling the problem head on. Its residents have no choice: The sea level here has risen a foot over the last century, according to a 2015 document outlining the city’s Sea Level Rise Strategy. Flooding which used to occur twice a year in the 1970s is now averaging 11 times per year. But the sea wall protecting the Battery has been shored up and raised, stormwater drainage enhancements are underway and other projects are planned as the city prepares for a rise of up to 2.5 feet over the next 50 years.
I didn’t expect to find such progressive thinking down here, in the “sleepy old conservative South.” That’s what I get for believing in stereotypes.