South Florida at High Risk: White House Climate Assessment

Region "exceptionally vulnerable" to sea level rise, increasing temperatures

National Weather Service

Sea level rise, increasing temperatures and decreased water availability are some of the major risks facing South Florida, according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment released by the White House Tuesday.

Florida, which is part of the Southeast and Caribbean region in the assessment, is "exceptionally vulnerable" to these risks.

According to the assessment, the sea level rise will have an effect not only on the environment but also on the economy in South Florida. Decreased water availability will also have an effect on the economy as well as the region's unique ecosystems.

"Sea level rise presents major challenges to South Florida’s existing coastal water management system due to a combination of increasingly urbanized areas, aging flood control facilities, flat topography, and porous limestone aquifers," the assessment stated. "For instance, South Florida’s freshwater well field protection areas lie close to the current interface between saltwater and freshwater, which will shift inland with rising sea level, affecting water managers’ ability to draw drinking water from current resources."

Flooding, which is already a concern in South Florida, could also increase, according to the assessment.

"There is an imminent threat of increased inland flooding during heavy rain events in low-lying coastal areas such as southeast Florida, where just inches of sea level rise will impair the capacity of stormwater drainage systems to empty into the ocean," the assessment said. "Drainage problems are already being experienced in many locations during seasonal high tides, heavy rains, and storm surge events."

Also of concern are increasing temperatures, the assessment noted.

"Increasing temperatures and the associated increase in frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme heat events will affect public health, natural and built environments, energy, agriculture, and forestry," the assessment said.

Miami was one of four major Southeast cities cited in the assessment as a high risk for death as a result of temperature increases.

"Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, and Tampa have already had increases in the number of days with temperatures exceeding 95ºF, during which the number of deaths is above average," the assessment said. "Higher temperatures also contribute to the formation of harmful air pollutants and allergens. Ground-level ozone is projected to increase in the 19 largest urban areas of the Southeast, leading to an increase in deaths."

The assessment noted that efforts are underway in Florida to address the climate change, including land-use planning; provisions to protect infrastructure and ecosystems; regulations related to the design and construction of buildings, road, and bridges; and preparation for emergency response and recovery.

NBC 6 Chief Meteorologist John Morales was one of eight meteorologists from across the nation invited to the White House to attend Tuesday's release of the assessment and will have an opportunity for a one-on-one interview with President Barack Obama to discuss the impact on South Florida.

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