Advertisement
  1. Weather

Florida squarely in cross-hairs of climate change, new report says (w/video)

The Third National Climate Assessment warns of heavier rainstorms and flooding in low-lying areas, such as the storm that collapsed part of Scenic Highway on April 30 in Pensacola.
Published May 7, 2014

In a federal report being called "the loudest and clearest alarm bell to date" regarding climate change, the Tampa Bay area is labeled as one of three areas in Florida particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, with the others being Miami and Apalachicola.

The report, the Third National Climate Assessment, also warns 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, such as the storm that clobbered the Panhandle last week.

Unveiled Tuesday, the report, a product of five years of work by a team of 60 scientists, spells out that climate change is not something awaiting in the future — it's affecting life now.

Based on weather records going back to the 1800s, the period from 2001-2012 was the warmest on record globally. Summers are lasting longer across the United States, and storms are dumping more rain than ever before.

Meanwhile sea levels already have risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880 and are projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100. That's already worsening rain-related flooding in the streets of coastal cities such as Miami.

The report spends no time on the political debate about whether climate change is real: "Evidence for changes in Earth's climate can be found from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. . . . This warming has triggered many other changes to the Earth's climate. Snow and ice cover have decreased in most areas. Atmospheric water vapor is increasing in the lower atmosphere because a warmer atmosphere can hold more water. Sea level is increasing because water expands as it warms and because melting ice on land adds water to the oceans."

The cause, it says flatly, is "human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels."

The report is "the loudest and clearest alarm bell to date" about the need to take action on climate change, John P. Holdren, who heads up the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. "It's already affecting every region of the country."

Unlike global reports from the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change, this report focuses strictly on the impacts on the United States. It splits the country into eight regions and examines the impact on each, as well as discussing ways to adapt.

Southeastern states such as Florida, the report says, are "especially vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events and decreased water availability." That means "large numbers of cities, roads, railways, ports, airports, oil and gas facilities and water supplies are at low elevations and potentially vulnerable."

During hurricanes and tropical storms, "homes and infrastructure in low areas are increasingly prone to flooding," the report notes. "As a result, insurance costs will increase and people will move away from vulnerable areas."

Given Florida's porous limestone geology, a rising sea spells bad news for the drinking supply. Salty water pushing inland will invade the aquifer, tainting it and forcing local and state officials to find other, more expensive sources, the report says. That affects not just homeowners but also businesses and farmers.

An upcoming follow-up report, expected within a few months, will spell out ways local and state governments can try to cope, such as raising highways and moving hospitals and power plants inland.

In state parks on the coast, the signs of a rising sea are easy for scientists to spot. At Waccasassa State Park in Levy County, palm trees have been toppling over dead as rising saltwater creeps up the beach. At Rookery Bay Preserve near Naples, salt­water mangroves have invaded what used to be freshwater marshes.

Tidal charts in Key West, which date back to before the Civil War, have documented a rise of 9 inches in the past century. Tidal flooding that used to be a rare occurrence in Key West now happens so frequently that some businesses on the city's famed Duval Street have stockpiled sandbags for quick deployment.

However, Gov. Rick Scott has said he does not believe climate change is real. As a result, the state Department of Environmental Protection has no specific programs aimed at dealing with climate change. Spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the agency has "various programs . . . indirectly working on projects and collecting data that may be used for the purposes of studying climate change."

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter @craigtimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm moving toward the northeast out to sea. National Hurricane Center
    An early morning advisory shows the storm turning toward the northeast.
  2. Tropical storm Sebastien has developed in the Atlantic and now has an 80 percent chance of turning into a tropical cyclone. [National Hurricane Center] National Hurricane Center
    Forecasters with the National Weather Service do not expect the storm to threaten land.
  3. Forecasters with the National Weather Service estimate that the system has a 50-percent chance of developing into a tropical or sub-tropical depression during the next 48 hours. National Weather Service
    Forecasters with the National Weather Service expect the system to develop into a depression by mid-week.
  4. Maintainers prepare KC-135s refueling planes to be evacuated from MacDill Air Force Base in August. A new study predicts MacDill and other Florida bases will experience a sharp rise in the number of days when the heat index tops 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unsafe to be outside for extended periods. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    MacDill Air Force Base is predicted to see big increases in days the heat index tops 100 degrees.
  5. An arctic blast will chill the eastern U.S. this week and send temperatures in Florida well below normal on Wednesday. National Weather Service
    Tampa Bay might not freeze this week, but we’ll get the coldest temperatures of the season so far as they dip well below normal.
  6. The St. Petersburg waterfront shines in the morning sun. Cool, dry weather is forecast to continue well into the week.
    Following the hottest October in history, things might finally cool during the second week of November.
  7. Buchanan Street near A1A in Hollywood flooded in late September of this year due to king tides. [Taimy Alvarez | South Florida Sun Sentinel] TAIMY ALVAREZ  |  South Florida Sun Sentinel
    Even as saltwater swallows their streets, they find a way to carry on as though nothing is out of the ordinary.
  8. [Times files]
    The bay area has endured record-breaking heat this fall. But it’ll get cooler on Saturday and then really cool on Sunday. Enjoy it while it lasts.
  9. Abundant Halloween decorations are seen  in much of the Old Northeast neighborhood of St. Petersburg. The neighborhood has become a destination for trick-or-treaters from across the city. Photos by Edward Linsimer
    Going trick-or-treating in Tampa Bay? That costume better be breathable.
  10. A motorist drives down a flooded Meadowlawn Dr. near Kingswood Dr. in St. Petersburg after Tropical Storm Colin dumped heavy rains over the Tampa Bay area Tuesday. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
    The partisan divide is less pronounced in a state already grappling with rising seas and stronger storms.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement