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Jennifer Rubiello,
Environment Florida

Release: Interactive map shows impacts of storms and floods hitting close to home

For Immediate Release

St. Petersburg, FL –Ninety-nine percent of Floridians live in counties affected recently by weather-related disasters, including storms, floods and hurricanes, according to an interactive, online map released today at Eckerd College that crunches data from the federal government. Scientists say global warming is already exacerbating some extreme weather events and their impacts.

“From massive floods to severe rain storms and hurricanes, dangerous weather is already hitting close to home,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “And without action to stop climate change, scientists say these extremes—and their impact on Floridians—will only get worse.”

Environment Florida researchers, who created the online map, Hitting Close to Home, found the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared disasters related to severe storms or floods in all but one 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 last 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.”

In addition to statistics for recent weather-related disasters, Environment Florida teamed up Dr. Hastings and a group of his students at Eckerd College to gather the case studies and personal stories included in the map from Americans impacted by extreme weather events across the country, including Floridians.

“This area of Florida has been hit with an increasing frequency of storms, but this one was so severe that it flooded over the streams and lakes,” began the story from Michelle from Orlando, where a severe thunderstorm swept through central Florida a few years ago. “A lot of dangerous wildlife – poisonous snakes, snapping turtles, alligators – were able to swim up and down streets and sidewalks, trapping people in their homes.”

Anicka Chaffey, one of the student researchers, read the story from Jordan, a current student at Eckerd present during last summer’s severe flooding and rains.

“In August 2015, the Tampa Bay area faced heavy rainstorms where partially treated sewage water spilled onto the Eckerd College campus and into neighboring Boca Ciega Bay. The sewage water was high in potentially dangerous bacteria like E.coli, causing the surrounding waters to be shut down for recreational activity. Unfortunately, I was one of the students who didn't receive the safety alert in time, and went swimming at the Eckerd College waterfront after the spill.”

The map reveals that nationwide, more than 57 million Americans live in counties that were affected by more than five weather disasters over the last five years, while counties housing 97 percent of the population experienced declared disasters at least once.

The analysis comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants that also incentivize the development of wind, solar, and other forms of clean energy. Florida has said it will it will pause implementation of the CPP.

“Ultimately, we’re confident that the Clean Power Plan will survive polluter attacks in the courts,” said Rubiello. “But in the mean time, states should be moving forward with clean energy solutions – for the sake our climate, our air, and our health – not obstructing climate progress as Gov. Rick Scott is." 

Since the pre-industrial era, average global temperature has increased by nearly a degree Celsius. In December, nearly 200 nations reached a global accord to limit warming to no more than another degree – a benchmark scientists say is critical to avert even more severe and frequent weather disasters.

“To meet our commitment in Paris and avoid the most dangerous climate impacts,” concluded Cypress Hansen, another one of the Eckerd student researchers, “ultimately we need to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”