Jimmy Strickland can tell you exactly how much money rising sea levels have cost his business. In 1989, he opened his accounting firm in a one-story brick building near Norfolk's historic cobblestoned Hague district, which surrounds one of this low-lying city's many tidal rivers.
Dressed in pinstripes and a large, gold class ring, the white-haired Strickland is a consummate Southern gentleman—and also a consummate small-business owner. In his soft coastal accent, he tells the story of how the rising tides of Norfolk have eroded his bottom line. "I was here for 14 years, and nothing happened. We had no idea this area flooded. It had never happened before," Strickland says. "Then, over the past 10 years, we had three big ones." In 2003, Hurricane Isobel drove a foot-high surge of seawater into his office, drenching the foundation and walls. On Veterans Day 2009, a nor'easter brought a repeat. Last October, while most of Virginia escaped the wrath of superstorm Sandy as it barreled up the coast toward New York, the tidal waters in Norfolk rose and soaked through his cinder-block foundation. Strickland and his wife spent 36 hours in the office, vacuuming the moisture as it seeped through the floor. Now, whenever a storm is forecast, the boss and his staff come in to prep two days before it is due. That means moving furniture and files, as well as wrapping the photocopiers and fax machines in plastic. It means hours of setting up the $12,000 "door-dam" system that Strickland bought online—an assembly of metal panels and pegs that can hold floodwaters from the building for a few tide cycles.