In almost all aspects of daily life — from water supply, to roads, to jobs, to health — rising heat fueled by climate change will come at a cost in Tampa Bay.
Two recent studies show how higher temperatures in the coming decades will mean more frequent hotter days, which could lead to a loss of income for some, and higher bills and health complications for the most vulnerable residents.
A study by First Street Foundation, a nonprofit that analyzes the country’s climate risks, shows that over the next 30 years, Florida will see the biggest increase in the number of days when the heat index reaches 100 degrees or above.
Locally, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council found that extreme heat will cause labor shortages and higher energy bills, and require more frequent infrastructure fixes.
Experts say the problem is clear, and it’s up to community leaders to think now about solutions.
“Heat is going to directly affect our health and how the economy operates,” said Randy Deshazo, the chief of staff at the Planning Council. “It’s almost insidious, like it will creep up on us with the impact.”
A look into the future
This year the city of Tampa recorded the hottest summer in its history dating back to 1890, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin. Other Tampa Bay area cities experienced summers for the record books — Plant City had its warmest summer on record and St. Petersburg recorded its seventh hottest summer.
The First Street Foundation study, released in August, looked at the entire country and assessed how heat will impact areas. The foundation created a map that allows a user to enter an address and see an estimate of how heat in that area will change over the next 30 years.
“Tampa itself actually has one really good benefit to it. It’s so close to the water that actual highest temperatures on any given day don’t get as hot as other portions of the country,” said Matthew Eby, the CEO of First Street Foundation.
While the study shows it’s unlikely Tampa Bay will ever see heat as high as the middle of the country, where temperatures could climb past 125 degrees in coming years, the region and the state of Florida will likely see more of what First Street Foundation called “dangerous days,” when the heat index reaches 100 degrees or more.
Of the 20 counties in the United States that will see the largest increase in the number of dangerous days by 2053, 18 are in Florida. Miami-Dade tops the list with 41 more dangerous days. Hillsborough and Polk are also on the list, each with an increase of 34 dangerous days.
The number of consecutive days with a heat index of 100 degrees or above will also increase. For example, Hillsborough in 2023 will probably have 14 days of consecutively dangerous days. In 30 years, that number will be 31 days.
“On those very, very hot days or on those average weeks of hot temperatures … that’s where we need to be thinking about solutions,” Eby said.
How Tampa Bay will feel the heat
A 2021 study by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council shows how rising temperatures affect our daily lives.
The study, focused on six counties: Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas.
The study says that heat has a substantial effect on the regional economy, mostly through loss of labor and higher energy costs.
“In the past, we’ve been doing studies on sea level rise because that’s clearly a very important issue in our area,” Deshazo said. “But we’ve not really talked before about some of the driving factors behind sea level rise, which is the change in temperatures.”
Researchers predict there will be 242 heat-related deaths in Tampa Bay in 2030. That number will rise 164% in 2050, to 639 deaths. By 2060, the study estimates more than 1,000 people will die annually from a heat-related illness.
Higher heat will probably affect jobs, too, Deshazo said. People working outside or in warmer environments will need more breaks and better ways to cool down, and the rising costs associated with addressing those needs could lead employers to develop more automated jobs, he said.
The study estimates Tampa Bay would lose 8,779 jobs to rising heat by 2060, equating to the average person losing about $3,500 in income each year. That may not seem like much in 40 years, but the job losses would likely come from workers who are already in low-paying positions, making the impact on lower-income people worse.
Tampa Bay’s public infrastructure will also take a hit.
Warmer temperatures could increase algae levels in surface water bodies like lakes and rivers, requiring bigger investments in stormwater and wastewater infrastructure to comply with regulations.
Higher temperatures also could lead to heavier rainfall concentrated in shorter periods, which would mean more stormwater runoff and less water reaching the aquifer that serves as a freshwater source. That would require the region to rely more heavily on its desalination plant, which would require more electricity and increase energy costs.
The Planning Council study also notes that most U.S. roads are built to suit local climate conditions and based on climate data from 1964 to 1995, so roads could need to be repaired as early as six years sooner, depending on how much temperatures increase.
What can we do?
The purpose behind First Street Foundation’s study, Eby said, is to allow people to make an informed decision about their future.
The University of South Florida, along with the City of Tampa, is working on a heat vulnerability playbook that looks for solutions to minimize the disproportionate effects of climate change on vulnerable communities, such as East Tampa.
Whit Remer, the chief resilience and sustainability officer for the city of Tampa, said the research can be used for the rest of the city as leaders plan for higher temperatures.
People with low income sometimes don’t own cars, meaning they’re walking or biking in dangerous heat. Shaded bus stops could offer relief.
Tree coverage can also combat the stressors of heat by providing cooling shade for streets and sidewalks, Remer said. He said one potential challenge is that some see large trees as a liability.
“We’re really focused on an effort called ‘right tree, right place’ and finding shade trees that can provide those benefits that we all want but making sure they’re in the right place,” Remer said.
Remer said he’s most interested in helping people understand how to weatherize their own homes and save money. Weatherization programs can audit a person’s home and show how efficiently a house uses energy.
The First Street Foundation study says Florida and Texas are by far the largest consumers of energy for cooling purposes. In 30 years, Florida will pay an extra $300 million more in energy costs to stay cool, the study estimated — the third highest increase in the nation, behind Texas and California.
Upgrading existing homes and making them safer and more livable can preserve the community and address the scarcity of affordable housing.
The city of Tampa’s Owner Occupied Rehab program provides grants or loans to people who need these safety upgrades, Remer said. The program can help homeowners fix problems such as broken air conditioners, deteriorating walls and leaking roofs. And the demand for assistance is clear. The city’s website said the program has been placed on hold because of an overwhelming number of applications.