The southeastern coastline of Florida, including Miami, may be one of the places hit by climate change the hardest on Earth. Due to its location, the Miami area currently suffers from climate change in several drastic ways and will likely suffer even more in the future (Genovese. 2011, Repetto. 2022). Climate change and rising sea levels threaten the future of the area's resources by increasing the likelihood of flooding, saltwater intrusion, inundation of low-lying lands, erosion of beaches and barrier islands, and an increase in extreme hurricanes (Harrington, 2008). When all these hazards affect the same location, it becomes extremely vulnerable. Out of these risks, the most consequential are flooding from storm surges and rising sea levels, as well as an increase in severe hurricanes.
Storm surges are weather hazards that can generate dangerous flooding from rough coastal waters created by cyclones, and storms, washing up on the shore (Booth, 2021). They can happen multiple times a year and cause expensive damage if not restrained. For properties on the seafront, they will be more quickly destroyed as they will be heavily exposed to wave action as well as floodwaters, i.e. the force of the waves will damage the property (Genovese, 2011). This is relevant for Miami since many properties, habitats, and hotels are located on the seafront (Genovese, 2011). Properties inland will just be exposed to “resting” water damage (Genovese, 2011). The threat of storm surges happens in the present and will also likely worsen over time as climate change increases. It also depends on the other relevant climate change hazard, stronger hurricanes, which initiate the other environmental threats.
When hurricanes land, they can also create what’s called “compound floods”. Compound floods are a combination of any two or more types of floods: 1) pluvial and coastal, 2) pluvial and fluvial, and 3) fluvial and coastal (Yangchen Lai, 2021). Compound floods intensify the adverse impacts of single noncompound floods and pose greater threats to society and ecosystems (Yangchen Lai, 2021).
When there is more flooding saltwater intrusion can spread farther and contaminate more. It is a process that happens with hurricanes. With higher sea levels and increasing saltwater intrusion, winds, high precipitation rates, storm surge, and ocean salts that accompany hurricanes will have widespread ecological impacts on ecosystems that are unprepared, and low-lying like Miami (NCA4, 2018).
Hurricane season begins on June 1st and ends on November 30th (Klotzbach, 2022). The hurricanes bring in ferocious weather conditions and can wreak havoc on their landed area for up to a week while leaving behind their destruction for up to multiple years. When describing them, a hurricane can be thought of as a gigantic heat engine fueled by latent heat released by water vapor condensing in the air (Simpson, 1954). A way to understand how climate change creates more severe hurricanes is by how climate change increases the amount of latent heat available. When there is more latent heat available, hurricanes can form and build up even more.
Because hurricanes travel over the warmest ocean areas, tropical cyclones that parallel low latitudes are more likely to become hurricanes, and stronger hurricanes, than those that recurve northward (Elsner, 2003). Hurricane seasons will tend to be more active when characterized by storms that remain at low latitudes, like in Florida (Elsner, 2003). So, what this means is that in addition to all the other things that disadvantage Florida, its low latitude from being near the equator allows stronger hurricanes to form around it.
Due to its exposure to the ocean, and location, Miami is very exposed to climate change hazards. Since the main development region for hurricanes is the central tropical Atlantic, Florida is in the vicinity and vulnerable (Elsner, 2003). Strait moving hurricanes are the most intense kind of Atlantic hurricanes (Elsner, 2003). Strait moving hurricanes that hit the United States tend to do so between Texas and South Carolina (Elsner, 2003). Since Florida falls within this region, they are susceptible to being hit by the most intense hurricanes.
An example of a recent hurricane that made landfall on a part of Florida was Hurricane Irma. In 2017, Hurricane Irma made an unusual landfall in South Florida and the unpredictability of the hurricane’s path challenged the evacuation process seriously (Ghorbanzadeh, 2021). It looked like it would hit Southeast Florida but suddenly shifted its path to the west coast of the peninsula, where the evacuation process had to change immediately with little notice (Ghorbanzadeh, 2021). This example shows just how unpredictable hurricanes can be, and how Florida is in such an unprotected geographic location.
Since the city of Miami has hardly any elevation, it is prone to flooding in several ways. Throughout Miami’s history, the city was subjected to flooding, mainly caused by heavy rain or storm surge (Wdowinski, 2016). Recently, rain-induced events have become more frequent and tide-induced flooding events have increased (Wdowinski, 2016). Between the multiple processes of flooding and exposure to environmental hazards, Miami is now one of the most economically unstable states in the country. Once seen as a favorable climate, with attractive waterfronts, and affordable housing, increasing storm surges and hurricanes, and rising insurance costs would change everything (Repetto, 2022)
Adaptation and Resilience
-Another significant problem that Florida faces when dealing with climate change is how much denial there is in politics. Adaptation efforts can be seen when state legislators supported policies to address Sea Level Rise (Butler, 2021). The 2011 bill undermining key state planning provisions included an amendment that authorized local governments to apply policies and develop projects in “Adaptation Action Areas” at risk of Sea Level Rise impacts (Butler, 2021).
-Florida’s 2015 Peril of Flood Act requires that coastal localities incorporate sea-level rise (SLR) planning policies into their comprehensive plans (Butler, 2021).
- Resilience to climate change and natural disasters in Florida can depend on how the economy is doing at the time of the event (Kim & Marcouiller, 2016)
Butler, W., Holmes, T., & Lange, Z. (2021). Mandated Planning for Climate Change: Responding to the Peril of Flood Act for Sea Level Rise Adaptation in Florida. Journal of the American Planning Association, 87(3), 370–382. https://doi.org/10.1080/01944363.2020.1865188
Booth, J. F., Narinesingh, V., Towey, K. L., & Jeyaratnam, J. (2021). Storm Surge, Blocking, and Cyclones: A Compound Hazards Analysis for the Northeast United States. Journal of Applied Meteorology & Climatology, 60(11), 1531–1544. https://doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-21-0062.1
(NCA4 report) Carter, L., A. Terando, K. Dow, K. Hiers, K.E. Kunkel, A. Lascurain, D. Marcy, M. Osland, and P. Schramm, 2018: Southeast. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 743–808. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH19
Elsner, J. B. (2003). Tracking Hurricanes, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 84(3), 353-356. Retrieved Mar 31, 2022, from https://journals.ametsoc.org/view/journals/bams/84/3/bams-84-3-353.xml
Genovese, Elisabetta & Hallegatte, Stéphane & Dumas, Patrice. (2011). Damage Assessment from Storm Surge to Coastal Cities: Lessons from the Miami Area. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. 1. 21-43. 10.1007/978-3-642-19789-5_2.
Ghorbanzadeh, M., Vijayan, L., Yang, J., Ozguven, E. E., Huang, W., & Ma, M. (2021). Integrating Evacuation and Storm Surge Modeling Considering Potential Hurricane Tracks: The Case of Hurricane Irma in Southeast Florida. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 10(10), 661. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijgi10100661
Harrington, J. (n.d.). Climate Change in Coastal Areas in Florida: Sea Level Rise Estimation and Economic Analysis to Year 2080.
Hyun Kim & David W. Marcouiller (2016) Natural Disaster Response, Community Resilience, and Economic Capacity: A Case Study of Coastal Florida, Society & Natural Resources, 29:8, 981-997, DOI: 10.1080/08941920.2015.1080336
Klotzbach, P. J., Wood, K. M., Bell, M. M., Blake, E. S., Bowen, S. G., Caron, L.-P., Collins, J. M., Gibney, E. J., Schreck III, C. J., & Truchelut, R. E. (2022). A Hyperactive End to the Atlantic Hurricane Season October–November 2020. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 103(1), E110–E128. https://doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-20-0312.1
Kolbert, E. (2015). The Siege of Miami. New Yorker, 91(41), 42–50.
Repetto , R. (n.d.). Economic and environmental impacts of climate change in Florida. Demos. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.demos.org/research/economic-and-environmental-impacts-climate-change-florida
Simpson, R. H. (1954). HURRICANES. Scientific American, 190(6), 32–37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24943541
Wdowinski, S., Bray, R., Kirtman, B. P., & Wu, Z. (2016). Increasing flooding hazard in coastal communities due to rising sea level: Case study of Miami Beach, Florida. Ocean & Coastal Management, 126, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2016.03.002
Yangchen Lai, Jianfeng Li, Xihui Gu, Cancan Liu, & Yongqin David Chen. (2021). Global Compound Floods from Precipitation and Storm Surge: Hazards and the Roles of Cyclones. Journal of Climate, 34(20), 8319–8339. https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-21-0050.1
(Image) Climates to Travel Climate -Miami (Florida) – Miami climate: weather by month, temperature, precipitation, when to go
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