Climate Change or not, a study of water damage potential and of remedial actions may be timely

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Low-Level Airports at Risk from Flooding by Rising Sea Levels: Opinion

2012 –Draft Environmental Assessment Climate Change

2012–Hurricane Sandy hits LGA

Insurance Consultant recommends planning

The potential for Climate Change causing the water levels to rise putting airports at risk was introduced when the NY-NJ Regional Plan Association cited it with regard to Teterboro. A recent Insurance Journal article responded to Typhoon Jebi’s slamming into Kansai International Airport, flooding the facility and 3,000 stranded people with a similar warning:

Just how many will be affected is hard to say, but you can get a decent picture by looking at how many hubs would be submerged by an event as dramatic as what’s just happened in Japan. Kansai Airport sits about 11 feet (3.4 meters) above sea level. That’s about in line with both of Shanghai’s airports; terminals in Rome, Brisbane, Barcelona, Tianjin, Bangkok and Amsterdam are all of equivalent elevations or lower.

Similar levels of flooding would affect 13 of the largest 47 U.S. airports, according to a 2014 government report, including all three major airstrips in the New York metropolitan area, two around San Francisco and two near Miami, as well as tarmac in Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Honolulu, Tampa and San Juan.

Although most climate models predict between 0.2 meters and 2 meters of sea-level rise by 2100 (with a median estimate of 1 meter), the main risk to airports isn’t that they’ll be permanently submerged. Instead, it’s that elevated waters and more extreme storms cause flooding that had previously happened only rarely to become a regular threats, necessitating increased capital spending on prevention measures and pushing up insurance premiums. That in turn risks undermining valuations, resulting in writedowns for the asset owners and in a worst-case scenario the necessity of moving to higher ground.

Assertions that an asset is safe against a 100-year flood event should be taken with a large pinch of salt. The previous 100 years on which those models are based are likely to look very different from the 100 that lie ahead. A 2012 U.S. study found that floods in the New York City area previously expected to occur only once in a century would happen every three to 20 years under climate-change conditions.

To be sure, many airports may be able to survive the lower-end climate-change predictions through a combination of levee building, improved drainage, and rebuilding of essential infrastructure to lift them out of reach of storm surges.

In that situation, occasional flooding will become an occupational hazard for major low-lying airstrips — an event that would cause immense disruption to the populations that depend on them, but won’t ultimately lead to the wholesale abandonment of sites. Still, that’s cold comfort to infrastructure investors who are counting on assets to hold their value in the long term — and if the higher-end scenarios come to pass, the consequences could be worse.

Airport owners who haven’t done proper climate risk modelling — or who haven’t publicly released it — shouldn’t be granted the benefit of the doubt by their investors. Refusing to talk about a risk doesn’t make it go away.

Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up for this threat when it struck New York City on October 29, 2012. The images of LaGuardia Airport flooded turned a draft federal assessment of climate change impacts, which forecast threats to airports into a present visual.

























Boston Logan has already started the climate risk preparation suggested by the insurance article.




  • general aviation facilities and runways at oak are likely to be inundated by new daily high tides with just 16 inches of sea level rise, which is within the range of most mid-century projections.
  • SFO could see flooding at a height of between 1 to 7 feet above ground level at various locations around the airport, including flooding of the longest runway, which is used by most jetliners. In addition, storm events coming on top of the 16 inches of sea level rise could render the main airport access roads impassable, the report found.
  • by 2100 depending on how quickly the polar ice caps melt, the entire airport would be exposed to flooding during the daily high tide,


  • Climate Central researchshows that there is a greater than 30 percent chance that the water level will exceed 8 feet above the average local high-tide line at least once by 2030 in Washington, D.C., which would flood parts of Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport.


  • Climate Central reportsays that there is a 40 percent chance that the water level, including the effects of a storm surge plus sea level rise, will top 5 feet above the average local high tide line at least once by 2030.


  • the airport has suffered from frequent flooding from the Mississippi River, having been inundated three times during the past 15 years. To prevent the recurrence of such flooding, the airport installed a modular floodwall, which can be easily added to when floods threaten.


  • Could have flooding on some of taxiways, runways and infrastructure. Some its most critical infrastructure is 15 feet underground. The airport installed stackable aluminum barriers that seal the doors to the substation.









TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Report 147: Climate Change Adaptation Planning: Risk Assessment for Airports has recommended that airports include climate-change adaptation in long-term planning, given the long lifespan of infrastructure built today.

Climate Change Adaptation Planning: Risk Assessment for Airports










Whether “Climate Change” is or is not in your vocabulary, the likelihood of water problems at your facility is real and here. It may be hurricanes. Particularly with the intense rain storms which now tend to accompany this weather. A study to examine what might be a causes of flooding your airport is merited. How vulnerable your facilities may be to water surges externally or internally[1] and what remedial steps should be initiated to proactively address water damage.




[1] Water leak floods JFK Airport baggage claim, forces evacuation


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1 Comment on "Climate Change or not, a study of water damage potential and of remedial actions may be timely"

  1. ACI issues similar advice–

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