Westerly may want to consider changing its name to Wetterly. As the climate changes in the coming decades, it is going to bring a lot more water to our seaside town. Many of us have heard that the sea levels are rising — and they are — but this is not the only factor that is bringing more water to our doorsteps. The changing climate also brings changing weather patterns across the globe, and in New England this is likely to mean more precipitation, at least for part of the year.
Not only does warmer air cause more water to evaporate from the ocean but warm air cannot hold as much water vapor as cool air. This means that the clouds cannot travel as far before letting loose, drenching the coast instead of giving Hartford a much-needed rinsing. This is on top of that sea level rise caused by the melting of land ice (sea ice doesn’t change sea level since it is already in the sea) and expanding volume of ocean water (water expands as temperature rises).
So, yeah, Westerly might be getting wetter. It is predicted that by 2100 (if that feels impossibly far away, remember it is already 2022) sea level could be up to 8 feet higher. At just 2 feet, Atlantic Avenue is largely under water, according to the Sea Level Rise Viewer from NOAA. At 3 feet Avondale Road is but a peninsula of Colonel Willie Cove and by 4 feet Margin Street Park and the Westerly Marina are our very own Lost City of Atlantis. The good news is that by 8 feet there won’t be a Weekapaug Beach to argue about rights and permits over. Of course, this also means countless homes and businesses are getting damp basements, at best.
While it is unlikely that we can totally avoid getting our feet wet, Westerly can take some actions to stay drier. We can improve the drainage of our streets and sidewalks, using more permeable pavement and adding better storm drains. At home we can create rain gardens beneath our storm drains to catch and absorb some of the excess rainwater. As a town we can set aside green spaces, especially around the many ponds and rivers, to act as buffers for floodwater. More native trees and grasses around town can help absorb extra water and add a nice pop of color. In addition, this added vegetation will help filter out pollutants and keep our waterways cleaner and healthier.
While greater action needs to be taken outside of Westerly to slow the quickly changing climate, there are actions we can take at home so that Westerly can remain our quaint little town for another three centuries.