More rain, storms, flood­ing in the forecast for Florida

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY CRAIG PITTMAN Tampa Bay Times

Four years ago, fed­eral of­fi­cials pub­lished a re­port that la­beled the Tampa Bay area as one area in Florida par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to ris­ing sea lev­els. The re­port, the Third Na­tional Cli­mate Assess­ment, also warned of in­creases in harm­ful al­gae blooms off Florida’s coast, wors­en­ing sea­sonal al­ler­gies for peo­ple al­ready made mis­er­able by spring­time pollen and heav­ier rain­storms and flood­ing in low-ly­ing ar­eas.

On Fri­day, fed­eral of­fi­cials re­leased their fol­lowup, the Fourth Na­tional Cli­mate Assess­ment, which over the course of 1,000 pages looks at how cli­mate change is al­ready dis­rupt­ing life in the United States — with more hur­ri­canes, wild­fires, heat waves and other dis­as­ters — and what com­mu­ni­ties are do­ing to deal with it.

The re­port — pro­duced by 300 sci­en­tists, many from 13 fed­eral de­part­ments and agen­cies, and over­seen by the U.S. Global Change Re­search Pro­gram — warns that hu­mans must take ac­tion now “to avoid sub­stan­tial dam­ages to the U.S. econ­omy, en­vi­ron­ment, and hu­man health and well-be­ing over the com­ing decades.”

If you’d like to read the re­port, click here.

“You’re go­ing to be see­ing heav­ier rain­fall, an in­crease in hot days, a de­crease in colder days and you’re go­ing to have all the is­sues with sea level rise,” said David Easter­ling with the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­stra­tion, which over­saw the re­lease of the re­port. Florida in par­tic­u­lar has been see­ing an in­crease in what he called “sunny day flood­ing,” with wa­ter wash­ing across roads and side­walks on days when there’s not a cloud in the sky.

Con­trary to Pres­i­dent Trump, who has re­peat­edly ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the ex­is­tence of cli­mate change, the re­port says that “the ev­i­dence of hu­man-caused cli­mate change is over­whelm­ing and con­tin­ues to strengthen, that the im­pacts of cli­mate change are in­ten­si­fy­ing across the coun­try, and that cli­mate-re­lated threats to Amer­i­cans’ phys­i­cal, so­cial, and eco­nomic well-be­ing are ris­ing.”

The re­port notes, as ev­i­dence, that the U.S. is al­ready 1.8 de­grees Fahren­heit warmer than it was 100 years ago and that the seas that sur­round the coun­try are on av­er­age 9 inches higher and climb­ing.

“The global av­er­age tem­per­a­ture is much higher and is ris­ing more rapidly than any­thing modern civ­i­liza­tion has ex­pe­ri­enced, and this warm­ing trend can only be ex­plained by hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties,” Easter­ling said dur­ing a con­fer­ence call with re­porters. Sci­en­tists on the call did not want to dis­cuss the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to re­lease the re­port on the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing, which is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a day for qui­etly re­leas­ing news that’s likely to make the gov­ern­ment look bad.

Ris­ing sea lev­els, par­tic­u­larly in Florida, mean greater dam­age from storm surges dur­ing hur­ri­canes such as Hur­ri­canes Michael and Irma. An in­sur­ance in­dus­try group has ranked the Tampa Bay re­gion as the most vul­ner­a­ble metropoli­tan area in the United States to storm surge, with $175 bil­lion in po­ten­tial losses.

Florida’s long his­tory of build­ing along the coast­line puts much of its prop­erty at risk. While the re­port does not re­fer to Tampa Bay’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity, it does point out that “Florida alone is es­ti­mated to have a 1-in-20 chance of hav­ing more than $346 bil­lion (in 2011 dol­lars) in prop­erty value ... be­low av­er­age sea level by 2100.”

Ris­ing sea lev­els can dam­age roads, homes, sew­ers and the power grid. For in­stance, the re­port notes that un­der one sealevel-rise sce­nario, the num­ber of ma­jor power plant sub­sta­tions in Florida that would be ex­posed to flood­ing from a Cat­e­gory 3 storm “could more than dou­ble by 2050 and triple by 2070.”

Ac­cord­ing to David Rei­d­miller, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cli­mate Assess­ment, in­dus­tries likely to see the big­gest im­pacts from cli­mate change are three that are cru­cial to Florida’s econ­omy: agri­cul­ture, tourism and fish­ing.

Some of the im­pacts are less ob­vi­ous. For in­stance, the re­port notes, higher tem­per­a­tures mean “make con­di­tions more suit­able for trans­mis­sion” of such dis­eases as Zika virus,

West Nile virus, dengue fever and other in­sect­borne dis­eases “in­clud­ing year-round trans­mis­sion in south­ern Florida.”

Rei­d­miller noted that since the last re­port came out four years ago, the na­tion has seen an in­crease in ef­forts by lo­cal gov­ern­ments to adapt to the changes wrought by cli­mate change by rais­ing high­ways above flood­wa­ters and re­lo­cat­ing im­por­tant fa­cil­i­ties away from the water­front.

The re­port men­tions the South­east Florida Re­gional Cli­mate Change Com­pact, which was formed in 2010 by Broward, Mi­ami-Dade, Mon­roe, and Palm Beach coun­ties and now in­cludes 35 lo­cal gov­ern­ments try­ing to find ways to cope with cli­mate change. How­ever, the newer Tampa Bay Re­gional Re­siliency Coali­tion, which formed in Oc­to­ber, did not get a shout out.

It also notes that Tampa Bay Wa­ter, the largest whole­sale wa­ter util­ity in the South­east, “is co­or­di­nat­ing with groups in­clud­ing the Florida Wa­ter and Cli­mate Al­liance to study the im­pact of cli­mate change on its abil­ity to pro­vide clean wa­ter in the fu­ture.” Mean­while the Semi­nole Tribe “as­sessed flood­ing and sea level rise threats to their wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture and devel­oped po­ten­tial adap­ta­tion mea­sures.”

A state law that took ef­fect in 2015 re­quires coastal Florida gov­ern­ments to ad­dress sea level rise and fu­ture flood risks in new ways.

Gov­er­nor-elect Ron DeSan­tis has said he does not view cli­mate change as a prob­lem for the state to take on, ex­cept in terms of try­ing to cope with the dam­age be­ing done by ris­ing seas.

In­for­ma­tion from the Washington Post and the Associated Press was used in this re­port. Con­tact Craig Pittman at [email protected]­pabay.com or . Fol­low @craig­times.

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