All it takes is one drive around Tampa Bay to see that our glittering waters are one of our biggest assets.
That fact is perhaps best exemplified in the three-mile expanse that is the Howard Frankland Bridge, a low-lying structure close enough to the water that it makes a drive to and from the airport feel almost like you’re floating on the sea.
But the beauty of the Howard Frankland is tainted by the very thing that makes it special: its proximity to the water. As sea level rise threatens to change our landscape, structures like the Howard Frankland may one day be buried by the ocean.
A look at NOAA’s sea level rise map shows us the image we don’t want to see: The islands and coasts of Tampa Bay slowly fill up with water as the sea level rises foot by foot. Eventually, Treasure Island, St. Petersburg’s bayfront and parts of Tampa’s Riverwalk are all swallowed up.
Florida’s geography puts it at an extreme risk for the effects of sea level rise compared to most U.S. cities. St. Petersburg and Tampa are within the top 25 cities susceptible to coastal flooding due in part to sea level rise in the next 30 years, according to a survey from the nonprofit group Climate Central.
By 2050, about 91,000 people in St. Petersburg and 57,000 in Tampa will live in locations vulnerable to flooding, which will be exacerbated by climate change and rising seas, indicates Climate Central. Residents who live in those areas have at least a 1 percent annual chance of experiencing flooding, based on guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Take a look at these data points that show just how close we are to seeing real changes in our environmental landscape.
22 out of 25 of the U.S. cities most vulnerable to coastal flooding are located in Florida, based on 2017 data.
Two of those cities are located in the Tampa Bay area: St. Petersburg ranks sixth while Tampa ranks 19th.
By 2050, that number will decrease but remain high: 20 out of the top 25 U.S. cities affected by coastal flooding and potential sea level rise will be in Florida.
Part of that decrease has to do with population growth in certain cities, like New York, which will see its number of residents threatened by flooding and sea level rise grow from 245,000 to 426,000 in the next 30 years.
Again, two cities are in the Tampa Bay area: St. Petersburg ranks eighth and Tampa ranks 22nd. 36 cities in Florida are in the top 50, according to Climate Central.
How much will Tampa Bay’s seas rise by 2200? The worst case scenario puts the answer at 37.8 feet.
Scientists offer a range of predictions for sea level rise. It’s hard to say exactly how much the seas will rise when the rate is a matter of estimation.
In the next 200 years, a conservative estimate of sea level rise in Tampa Bay puts the number at 3.7 feet.
The chart below shows how speed of sea level rise will affect the total amount. Hover over each bar to see the exact height of potential sea level rise.
$7 billion worth of property in St. Petersburg is located under 5 feet above sea level. If seas rise above that, how many will be affected?
- 27,425 homes are in a vulnerable area.
- 31 medical facilities are 5 feet or less above sea level.
- 12 government buildings and 5 schools in St. Petersburg could be threatened.
In Tampa, that number decreases to $4.9 billion. About 8,300 homes are located in an area 5 feet or less above sea level. Tampa’s landscape reflects far fewer buildings in the direct vulnerable area than St. Petersburg.
- 10 medical facilities are 5 feet above sea level or less.
- 4 houses of worship are in that same area.
- 3 government buildings are potentially threatened by sea level rise.
Find a full list of the top 25 U.S. cities threatened by sea level rise and coastal flooding here.
Florida residents, we want to hear from you. Does sea level rise seem like a distant future or an oncoming reality? Leave us questions or thoughts in the comments.