The widespread flooding on Dec. 23 is a good indicator of what’s to come more frequently or perhaps permanently, depending on anticipated events in Antarctica. All three down-Islands towns and Menemsha saw major flooding around their harbors caused by storm-driven surges coincident with a new-moon high tide. As storms go around here it wasn’t that memorable except perhaps for the extensive flooding.

Anyone driving through Five Corners, or attempting to that day, was treated to hubcap-deep water, or found it and Beach Road, once again, closed to traffic altogether. By around 2 p.m. the road was open, but there was still enough water sloshing around the intersection to require a very slow left turn towards the SSA terminal.

This is now happening with monotonous regularity. And the flooding will become more frequent, and worse, as sea level continues to rise, and storms become more frequent and intense. Access to the hospital and all the existing commercial activity along that busy corridor, plus all the new development proposed for the area (the wind farm maintenance facility and housing on the former lumber yard property), will be increasingly stranded. Not to mention the SSA terminal.

Recently reported research on the Thwaities glacier in Antarctica indicates a huge meltwater river has formed from under the glacier in addition to enhanced surface melting, and the high probability of a very large section about to break free. The result is an expected permanent sea level rise of 2 to 4 feet within 3 to 5 years. Let me repeat: 2 to 4 feet of increase in 3 to 5 years. Let that sink in, That destroys any assumption of a slow constant rate of sea level rise.

The historic record also supports rapid rises. The post-glacial period of the past 15 to 20 thousand years shows sea level increase has been punctuated by major changes in very short periods of time such as the predicted 3 to 5-year time frame. How do we deal with that given the lead time necessary to prepare for such a dramatic and potentially catastrophic change? And let us not forget the lunar cycle produces high tides every two weeks superimposed on any permanent sea level rise — not to mention the storm surges we experience all the time already.

A perfect example of how not to prepare for what’s coming is what just happened in Tisbury. A major rebuild of Beach Road, paid for by the state, was just completed with no change in its elevation to compensate for sea level rise. Nor are there now sufficient drainage improvements either at Five Corners or along the road. Was no one aware of the existing problems and of what is to come? Of course both the state DOT and the Town of Tisbury are very aware. But evidently irreconcilable disagreements between the two responsible entities about what should be done resulted in this unacceptable status quo. That sort of not solving the problem can’t continue.

Granted the problems are huge, scary and have no easy solutions. Nor inexpensive ones. Even such preparations that have been made, such as the recent elevation of the Edgartown Yacht Club building, are going to prove inadequate protection. Specifically, what do we do about all the SSA facilities in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs? The Chappy ferry? What about access to the hospital? The list goes on and on.

So are operable sea barriers in the harbors, such as the one in New Bedford, in our future? One each in Vineyard Haven between the Chops, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Menemsha, Tashmoo? A viaduct from Five Corners to the Lagoon bridge? Giant pumping stations for more localized problems such as Five Corners? Some entities have to be planning something, and the time for that was awhile ago because the flooding future is staring us in the face now.

The flooding on Dec. 23 gave us a glimpse and that wasn’t as bad as it will be.

Richard Knabel is a retired professor of physical science. He lives in West Tisbury.