What if a Hurricane like Sandy Hit Your Brewery? The Very Real Danger of a Rising Tide

By The Numbers by | December 19, 2018 11:51 p.m.

Just last September, when Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, newly built Tidewater Brewing Company in Wilmington was devastated before it had a chance to open. Last year, when Hurricane Harvey flooded the brewery in Houston’s warehouse district, 160ft Beerworks indefinitely shut down to figure out if it could reopen. And in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy blew into New York City, Oceanside’s Barrier Brewing saw four feet of salt water flood its facilities, racking up $100,000 in damages and raising serious existential questions.

It’s no surprise that coastal, commercially-zoned areas along the East Coast are highly attractive to breweries. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room is that they’re also incredibly prone to flooding. And, as two recent, monumental climate science reports point out, sea levels are rising and storms are getting stronger and more frequent. That means breweries and neighboring businesses are increasingly caught in the floodplains.

Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Google for low-lying breweries within city limits, we mapped 8-feet-above-sea-level conditions for four greater metro areas in the US—Boston, New York, Charleston, S.C., and Miami—to simulate storm surges similar to Hurricane Sandy. Dark blue areas show the existing shoreline, while the lighter hue depicts the potential landscape following a serious storm surge.

The following storm surge scenarios might seem alarmist, but they’re not out of the realm of possibility, as scientists at Climate Central have shown. Remember that Hurricane Sandy inundated parts of Red Hook, Brooklyn with six feet of water. During a Nor’easter last winter, Boston saw five feet of storm surge and its seaport drenched. When Florence hit North Carolina, parts of the state endured 10-foot storm surges. It should be noted that these maps employ a “bath tub” approach to modeling sea level rise scenarios, where flooding conditions are spread out evenly across a city. Storm surges can and do hit some areas harder than others depending on winds, tides, and other factors. (Click map for an interactive version).

Mapping sea level rise in Boston

In the event of an eight-foot sea level rise, Boston-area breweries like Trillium, Hopsters and Harpoon could end up under water. North of downtown, Climate Central projections would also have Mystic, Bone Up, and Night Shift in a very wet situation.

Mapping sea level rise in New York City

With 8-feet of storm surge, New York-area breweries like Sixpoint, Rockaway, and Coney Island could end up under water. It’s a good thing Transmitter is moving from Long Island City, but the Brooklyn Navy Yard isn’t exactly high ground.

Mapping sea level rise in Charleston

Charleston’s Palmetto, Cooper River, and Revelry breweries—along with much of the city itself—may be flooded in the event of 8-foot storm surge. In this scenario, Frothy Beard, Two Blokes, Low Tide, and others would become island breweries.

Mapping sea level rise in Miami

With eight-feet of sea level rise or storm surge, Miami’s Nightlife Brewing, Lincoln’s Beard, and Abbey Brewing might be in serious trouble. Scroll up to Fort Lauderdale to see what could happen to Tarpon River, Invasive Species, and Funky Buddha.

But what about flood insurance?

Good luck. Insurers of breweries are increasingly not offering flood insurance in some of these vulnerable areas, says Paul Martinez, head of the Brewery PAK insurance program of Pak Programs. For Brooklyn and Queens, for instance, Martinez won’t cover floods. The same goes for Houston. That leaves brewers in these high-risk areas buying flood insurance—or applying for relief—from the federal government.

These decisions shouldn’t be made hastily or once it’s too late though. Martinez says he’s always astounded at how many people neglect to factor in these catastrophic risks when deciding where to situate their brewery. “You would think they would do this before they purchase the location,” he says. “But a lot of times, insurance is usually the last thing everyone thinks about… You’d be shocked at how many times the equipment’s been in for a week, they’ve been testing it and it’s not insured.”

Like many insurers, Martinez uses RiskMeter, software that assesses the risk of flash flooding, regular flooding, sewer backup, and storm surge for a location given historic data and projections like the maps above. He hopes more would-be brewers would consult the data before buying or leasing property.

In the meantime, Boston is planning on elevating roads and building seawalls to protect its harbor’s valuable real estate—breweries like Trillium and Harpoon included. Other regions are planning a “managed retreat” to relocate coastal homes further inland. What will breweries themselves do? 

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