White House climate assessment puts South Florida at high risk


President Obama will release a new assessment on climate change Tuesday that says South Florida is vulnerable to sea rise, extreme heat and other dangers.


South Florida is getting hotter, stormier and saltier under a new assessment of climate change being released Tuesday by the White House.

The National Climate Assessment, which was overseen by a committee of 60 scientists, carves the nation into 11 regions, with the Southeast, as well as the Caribbean, sitting squarely in the crosshairs of climate change. In a draft of the report, which the final version is expected to mirror, the scientists call the area “exceptionally vulnerable” to risks from man-made climate change including rising seas, more extreme heat and dropping water supplies.

It is the first federal assessment since 2009 and comes at a time when climate change, particularly in South Florida, increasingly garners national attention.

“We already have water in the streets in places like Key West and on Bayshore Drive,” said Harold Wanless, a University of Miami geology professor who has long studied climate change. “We’ve created an immense problem.”

The 1,300-page document incorporates not only predictions from various climate models, but observations from around the country and is an attempt to incorporate sometimes rapidly changing research into a larger social, economic and political context. It is intended to help the federal government establish priorities for dealing with the effects of climate change, spend its money more wisely and provide guidelines for local governments.

It also drives home a conclusion reached by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in April. Namely, that while governments are considering lots of plans, they have failed to carry them out.

In a draft first published in January 2013 and subjected to public comment, the authors say temperatures in the region are expected to rise between two and six degrees during this century, a change they attribute to natural climate variability. Yet they also acknowledge that some climate models based on warming caused by higher carbon emissions put sea level rise at 6.6 feet, well above widely accepted projections of one to four feet above existing levels. At that level, nearly 5 million residents who live within four feet of the local high tide level would be in danger.

The report also provides for the first time a grim forecast for farmers: with just over two feet of sea rise, 37,500 acres of Florida farmland would be lost.

“We’ve been complaining for 20 years about this water table,” said Sam Accursio Jr., whose family farms 2,000 acres, mostly in South Miami-Dade County. “We’re in the driest part of the year and we’re still wet.”

But even while the draft report’s predictions are grim, Wanless said the final report will probably not go far enough in stating the risks.

“They’re really low-balling it because they don’t know what to do with all this ice melt,” he said. “By the end of the century, Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe, they’re going to be very challenging places to live.”

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