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Mysterious East Coast Flooding Linked to Weird Wind Patterns

Mysterious flooding and high tides along the East Coast in 2009 and 2010 now have an explanation: a major change in the Atlantic Ocean's wind patterns and warm-water currents.

At the time, the unusually high tides caught people by surprise. Now, researchers know why the ocean was flooding beaches and barrier islands: Sea levels temporarily jumped by up to 2 feet (61 centimeters) above the high tide mark, as measured by tide gauges along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida. Over the two-year period, coastal sea levels rose an average of 4 inches (10 cm) from New York to Newfoundland, Canada, researchers reported Tuesday (Feb. 24) in the journal Nature Communications.

"This extreme sea level rise is unprecedented in tide gauge records," said study co-author Jianjun Yin, a University of Arizona geosciences professor who specializes in climate modeling. "This is a one-in-850-year event, based on the past records."

Coastal flooding in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2012. Amy McGovern / NOAA
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