Insurance and Climate Change column

Report: Florida Will See Noticeable Climate Change Impacts in 20 Years

By | February 6, 2020

When scientists talk about climate change effects like sea level rise and extreme temperatures, they’re typically referring to things predicted to start noticeably occurring as soon as, say 2050, or into the next century.

But the impacts of climate change may not be so far in the future for Floridians and those who write insurance in the Sunshine State, a new report claims.

The report, “Florida Climate Outlook: Assessing Physical and Economic Impacts Through 2040,” projects increased flooding, a statewide rise in average temperatures, and an increase in the statewide average number of days with highs above 95°F – in the next 20 years.

The report was put out by Resources for the Future, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that conducts independent research into environmental, energy and natural resource issues.

It also examines the projected effects of sea level rise using three scenarios: a moderate scenario defined by 1.6 feet of additional global sea level rise by 2100; a higher scenario defined by 3.3 feet by 2100; and an extreme scenario defined by 8.2 feet by 2100.

Because of wind and ocean circulation patterns, Florida has historically experienced higher rates of sea level rise than the global average, the report notes.

Florida counties and the probability of major flood events occurring with moderate, higher or extreme sea-level rise scenarios. Source: Resources for the Future

By 2040, under the moderate scenario, median projections of sea level rise at different points along Florida’s coastline range from 8 in. to 9 in. Under the higher scenario, median projections show between 12 in and 13 in., and under the extreme scenario, median projections are for 2 feet.

“Florida’s long coastline and low-lying land make it particularly vulnerable to the damaging impacts of sea level rise. Every additional inch of sea level rise will increase the economic risks Florida faces from flooding, which will threaten more property and infrastructure,” the report states. “Rising seas will also reduce groundwater quality through saltwater intrusion.”

All along Florida’s coast, the annual risk of flooding is projected to increase substantially. Extreme flooding that previously would have been expected to occur just once every 100 years, with waters reaching 2 to 3 feet above the high-water mark depending on the specific location, will become more frequent, according to the report.

Statewide, roughly 490,000 people live on land less than 3 feet above the high-water mark, with over 300,000 homes and an estimated $145 billion in property value. Over 2,500 miles of roads, 372 hazardous waste sites, 30 schools and four hospitals could be subjected to flooding.

The counties with the largest number of people facing this risk are Miami-Dade, Broward, Pinellas, Monroe, and Hillsborough, according to the report.

More on Florida

What are Floridians doing about all of this?

The Senate Appropriations Committee this week passed through a bill to create the a state Office of Resiliency to develop strategies to address rising sea levels.

SB 7016 establishes the Office of Resiliency within the executive office of the governor. The office is to be headed by a chief resilience officer appointed by the governor.

The bill would create the Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force, adjunct to the Office of Resiliency, to recommend consensus projections of the anticipated sea-level rise and flooding impacts along Florida’s coastline.

The bill requires that all appointments be made by Aug. 1, and the chief resilience officer must chair the task force and convene it no later than Oct. 1.

The task force will be required to develop and recommend consensus baseline projections of the expected sea-level rise for planning horizons designated by the task force.

The task force is authorized to designate technical advisory groups to inform its decision-making and to request the Department of Environmental Protection to contract for services to assist in developing the recommended baseline projections.

SB 7016 has been endorsed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, and now moves onto the Senate floor for a floor vote.

Its House companion, House Bill 1073, is set for a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee before moving to the House floor.

A fiscal impact analysis of SB 7016 cites estimates that Florida could lose more than $300 billion in property value due to rising sea levels by 2100.

“With 1,350 miles of coastline and relatively low elevations, Florida is particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding,” the analysis states. “There are three primary ways that climate change influences coastal flooding: sea-level rise, storm surge intensity, and rainfall intensity and frequency.”

Twitter

Tweets could be good for more than politics and name calling. They may be a good indicator of flooding.

A new paper in Nature Communications, “Using remarkability to define coastal flooding thresholds,” reports on a study that monitored flooding through Tweets.

The report combed through Tweets from millions of users geotagged in counties along the East and Gulf coasts from 2014 to 2016 and found that high-tide floods may be even more widespread than reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest.

The study looked for changes in the volume of Tweets containing flood-related phrases, such as “tide,” “inundate,” and “rising waters,” and matched them with water levels reported by the tidal gauges.

The study showed a spike in flood-related Tweets in 22 counties – including Miami, New York, and Boston, with a total population over 13 million.

“Our analysis implies that large populations might currently be exposed to nuisance flooding not identified via standard measures,” the study states.

The study highlights the limitations of the tidal gauge stations, the predominant way flooding is currently recorded.

Gauge stations for measuring tide heights are sparse, according to the study, which notes that along the 3,700 miles of coast making up the U.S. Eastern and Gulf seaboards, there are only about 132 tidal gauge stations with long-term records.

Additionally, translating tide heights into local inundation is not straightforward. Most gauges have three tide heights associated with minor, moderate or major flooding, yet the frequency of exceeding these thresholds varies widely, according to the study.

“There are two principal benefits of our approach to measuring floods,” the study states. “Firstly, because of the wide geographic coverage and relatively high density of Twitter data, we are able to estimate localized (i.e., county-specific) flooding thresholds, rather than relying on extrapolation from a sparse network of tide gauges. Secondly, our remarkability metric naturally integrates a measure of the social consequences of flooding, which is theoretically standardized within a particular county and time period.”

The resulting dataset has 413,000 observations from 237 counties, and includes 473,000 flood-related Tweets from a population of over 5 million twitter users.

Extreme Weather

We now may have better extreme weather prediction thanks to a deep learning, and an evidently self-learning, computer.

Rice University engineers created a deep learning computer system that taught itself to accurately predict extreme weather events, like heat waves, up to five days in advance using minimal information about current weather conditions, Insurance Journal’s Andrew Simpson reported today.

Ironically, Rice’s self-learning “capsule neural network” uses an analog method of weather forecasting that computers made obsolete in the 1950s, the Insurance Journal article notes.

During its training, the network examines hundreds of pairs of maps, each showing surface temperatures and air pressures at 3.1 miles height, with each pair showing those conditions several days apart. The training also includes scenarios that produced extreme weather — extended hot and cold spells that can lead to deadly heat waves and winter storms.

“Once trained, the system was able to examine maps it had not previously seen and make five-day forecasts of extreme weather with 85% accuracy,” the article states.

Rice’s Pedram Hassanzadeh, co-author of a study about the system, which was published online this week in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems, believes that with further development, the system could serve as an early warning system for weather forecasters, and as a tool for learning more about the atmospheric conditions that lead to extreme weather.

While the accuracy of day-to-day weather forecasts has improved noticeably since the advent of computer-based numerical weather prediction in the 1950s, even with the improved numerical models of the atmosphere and more powerful computers, we cannot reliably predict extreme events.

“It may be that we need faster supercomputers to solve the governing equations of the numerical weather prediction models at higher resolutions,” Hassanzadeh said. “But because we don’t fully understand the physics and precursor conditions of extreme-causing weather patterns, it’s also possible that the equations aren’t fully accurate, and they won’t produce better forecasts, no matter how much computing power we put in.”

Deep learning is a form of artificial intelligence, in which computers are trained to make humanlike decisions without being explicitly programmed for them.

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Latest Comments

  • February 20, 2020 at 12:10 pm
    Jack says:
    Craig- too many facts in there for some to grasp, and talk about science deniers.
  • February 20, 2020 at 12:06 pm
    Jack says:
    Well.... I agree CHIP should get the Nobel Prize, he's bombed less people and been at his position a lot longer than Obama was, and he got one. Who should we contact to get th... read more
  • February 18, 2020 at 11:52 am
    craig cornell says:
    Everyone serious about Climate Change should read the February 14th Wall Street Journal supplement on the future of Energy. It runs about 10 pages and includes amazing news yo... read more

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