With the news today that we should almost certainly see the predicted monster El Niño through the upcoming winter and spring, people are wondering what to expect. The answer is flooding. So much flooding.

Top image: 1998 El Niño floods in California / Dave Gatley/FEMA.

Along with the latest El Niño forecast today, NOAA also released its projections for how much of an increase of flooding we might see along with it. It’s the kind of flooding predicted that’s a little unusual, though: a series of small, persistently recurring floods along our coastlines, better known as “nuisance floods.” To explain the concept of “nuisance flooding” to a generation of millennials whose memories of the last round of late El Niño nuisance flooding may be a bit soggy (hey-oh!), NOAA put together this evocative little drawing:


Image: NOAA.

Please pay special attention to the dog with a single tear rolling down his nose and to the woman standing knee-deep in standing water to mourn her wet newspaper—death of print! But just how much of a nuisance can we expect these coastal floods to be? It depends on where on the coast you’re located—some areas should see a manageable 25% rise, while some areas should see up to 125%.


But, hey, if the floods are small, is it really such a problem? You bet it is. Nuisance flooding may not be the catastrophic level flooding that grabs attention, but it has the potential to slowly, but surely, change our cities. The 25-125% rise this year is huge, but when you compare it to levels back in the ‘60s the rise is even more extreme—between 300% to just under 1000%. In other words, the sight of standing water may be one that you want to get used to.