ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.– Ninety-nine percent of Floridians live in counties affected recently by weather-related disasters, including storms, floods, or drought, according to a new interactive map using data from the federal government. Scientists say global warming is already exacerbating some extreme weather events and their impacts.
“We used to think of climate change as a problem that would happen someday, somewhere,” said Jennifer Rubiello. “But as this map helps demonstrate, global warming is happening now, and it’s already hitting close to home.”
Environment Florida researchers, who created the online map, found the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared disasters in all but two of Florida’s counties between 2010 and 2015. Scientists predict unchecked global warming will likely increase the frequency, severity and the often devastating impacts of events like the extreme flooding this summer in Tampa Bay.
“Hurricanes and other coastal storms are likely to be more powerful because warmer ocean temperatures provide more energy for these storms," explained Dr. David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College. "Hurricanes and coastal storms will also likely deliver more rainfall because of increased water vapor in a warmer atmosphere, while storm surge could be more destructive as sea levels rise.”
As one St. Petersburg resident shared for the online map, the Tampa Bay area received over 15 inches of rain over a 2½-week period this past summer. As a result, the rivers flooded, many communities had street flooding, and 5 communities had sewer overflows. St. Petersburg had a total of 31 million gallons of partially treated sewage that it had to dump into the bayou.
Jerry Pippins, long-time Bradenton resident, experienced this flooding first hand.
“Over the last couple of years, the flooding from storms around my home and in my community has gotten increasingly worse,” said Pippins. “As global warming increases, I fear the extreme flooding we experienced this summer is likely to get worse if we don’t act now.”
Cathy Harrelson, St. Petersburg resident and founder of the city’s Sustainability Council echoed a similar feeling.
“After the flooding we had in August and over the past year, I’m glad I made the decision to move from my home in Shore Acres, in one of city’s worst flood zones. Yet not everybody can do that, despite the thousands of homes are at risk in and around St. Pete from extreme rainfall, sea level rise and severe storm flooding.”
Councilmember Darden Rice noted the city’s recent commitment to addressing climate change, "With St. Petersburg vulnerable to some of the worst impacts of climate change, we need to ensure we’re taking bold action to create a more resilient city for future generations.”
The map reveals that nationwide, more than 40 million Americans live in counties that were affected by more than five weather disasters over the last five years, while counties housing 96 percent of the population experienced declared disasters at least once.
Gail Eggeman, founder of the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market, explained the impact of extreme weather on small businesses.
“I have 125 small businesses at the market every week. In the last six months, I’ve had some of our farmers miss the market because they couldn’t get into their fields from all the flooding. As the temperature remains unbearably hot later in the year, the market is experiencing less foot-traffic and our small business owners and farmers are losing out. The more extreme the weather gets, the more concerned I become about growing and selling food in Florida.”
The analysis comes as Florida figures out how to implement the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution and Senator Rubio leads the charge to repeal this critical initiative.
It also comes just weeks before world leaders convene in Paris to reach an international agreement to slash global warming emissions.
Since the pre-industrial era, average global temperature has increased by nearly a degree Celsius, and climate scientists view another degree increase as untenable, leading to increasingly extreme weather events that will make parts of the world uninhabitable.
“To avoid even more dangerous climate impacts,” said Rubiello, “we need our leaders to act boldly to slash carbon pollution and transition to 100 percent clean renewable energy.”