Florida: Is the Party Over?

September 8, 2017


Will Irma be the last straw? or will it take a few more, larger storms of the future?

Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker:

Harvey was less lethal than Katrina; as of this writing, forty-six storm-related deaths have been confirmed. But in financial terms the storm’s costs are likely to be as high or even higher. One estimate put the price of repairing homes, roads, businesses, and the petrochemical plants that line the Houston Ship Channel at a hundred and ninety billion dollars. And that estimate was made before storm-damaged plants started to explode.

As misguided as the Bush Administration was about climate change, Donald Trump has taken willful ignorance to a whole new level. The President has called climate change an “expensive hoax” dreamed up by the Chinese. After much posturing, he announced in June that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. With less fanfare, he has rolled back Obama Administration regulations limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from both old and new power plants and from oil and gas wells. (Regarding the wells, a federal appeals court recently ruled against the White House, saying that it could not simply suspend the regulations.) Trump also revoked a 2013 executive order directing federal agencies to prepare for the impacts of warming and tossed out a plan, issued the same year, that outlined steps that the U.S. would take to combat climate change.

Then, just ten days before Harvey hit, the President rescinded a 2015 executive order requiring public-infrastructure projects in flood-prone areas to be designed with sea-level rise in mind. This move is likely to have particularly unfortunate consequences for Houston, a city with no zoning code, where thousands of buildings constructed on floodplains but lacking flood insurance are now filled with soggy debris. Last Monday, as rainfall totals in Houston were topping forty inches, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress that he was planning to eliminate his department’s special envoy for climate change.


If property values start to fall, Cason said, banks could stop writing 30-year mortgages for coastal homes, shrinking the pool of able buyers and sending prices lower still. Those properties make up a quarter of the city’s tax base; if that revenue fell, the city would struggle to provide the services that make it such a desirable place to live, causing more sales and another drop in revenue.

And all of that could happen before the rising sea consumes a single home.

As President Donald Trump proposes dismantling federal programs aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, officials and residents in South Florida are grappling with the risk that climate change could drag down housing markets. Relative sea levels in South Florida are roughly four inches higher now than in 1992. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060. By the end of the century, according to projections by Zillow, some 934,000 existing Florida properties, worth more than $400 billion, are at risk of being submerged.

A short drive through mangrove trees off Highway 1 in Key Largo, Stephanie Russo’s house backs onto a canal that opens into Blackwater Sound, and from there to the ocean; her neighbors lounge in shorts and flip-flops beside their boats.
A few months after Russo, a partner at a law firm in Miami, moved to Key Largo in 2015, the big fall tides brought 18 inches of water onto the road in front of their house. Unlike previous tidal floods, this one lasted 34 days.

“When we bought, there hadn’t been a flood like that for years,” said Russo, who was sitting at a table between the home’s outdoor bar and its pool.

“Ever,” interjected her husband Frank, who was working on the grill.

The saltwater ruined cars around the neighborhood, destroyed landscaping and sparked a mosquito infestation.
But the worst part might have been the trash.

“When people would drive, it creates a wake,” said Russo. “That knocks over all the garbage cans, and then everybody’s garbage is floating in the streets, and in the mangroves. It’s just disgusting.”

Officials in Monroe County agree there’s a problem, and plan to raise some roads in an attempt to reduce future flooding.

Russo says if she knew in 2015 what she knows now, she wouldn’t have purchased the house. People buying in her neighborhood today are probably just as clueless as she once was, she guesses. “I would bet money that the realtors are not telling them.”

Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone:

When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030, there was a foot of sand covering the famous bow-tie floor in the lobby of the Fontaine­bleau hotel in Miami Beach. A dead manatee floated in the pool where Elvis had once swum. Most of the damage occurred not from the hurricane’s 175-mph winds, but from the 24-foot storm surge that overwhelmed the low-lying city. In South Beach, the old art-deco­ buildings were swept off their foundations. Mansions on Star Island were flooded up to their cut-glass doorknobs. A 17-mile stretch of Highway A1A that ran along the famous beaches up to Fort Lauderdale disappeared into the Atlantic. The storm knocked out the wastewater-treatment plant on Virginia Key, forcing the city to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay. Tampons and condoms littered the beaches, and the stench of human excrement stoked fears of cholera. More than 800 people died, many of them swept away by the surging waters that submerged much of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale; 13 people were killed in traffic accidents as they scrambled to escape the city after the news spread – falsely, it turned out – that one of the nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, an aging power plant 24 miles south of Miami, had been destroyed by the surge and sent a radioactive cloud over the city.

The president, of course, said Miami would be back, that the hurricane did not kill the city, and that Americans did not give up. But it was clear to those not fooling themselves that this storm was the beginning of the end. With sea levels more than a foot higher than they’d been at the dawn of the century, South Florida was wet, vulnerable and bankrupt. Attempts had been made to armor the coastline, to build sea walls and elevate buildings, but it was a futile undertaking. The coastline from Miami Beach up to Jupiter had been a little more than a series of rugged limestone crags since the mid-2020s, when the state, unable to lay out $100 million every few years to pump in fresh sand, had given up trying to save South Florida’s world-famous­ beaches. In that past decade, tourist visits had plummeted by 40 percent, even after the Florida legislature agreed to allow casino gambling in a desperate attempt to raise revenue for storm protection. The city of Homestead, in southern Miami-Dade County, which had been flattened by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, had to be completely abandoned. Thousands of tract homes were bulldozed because they were a public health hazard. In the parts of the county that were still inhabitable, only the wealthiest could afford to insure their homes. Mortgages were nearly impossible to get, mostly because banks didn’t believe the homes would be there in 30 years. At high tide, many roads were impassable, even for the most modern semiaquatic vehicles.


8 Responses to “Florida: Is the Party Over?”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    This issue played a role in the Netflix series “Bloodline”. Where the hopes and dreams of a Florida coastal resort owner were dashed when assessors recommended to the potential buyer that the land would be under water in ten years.

    Either you get savvy and simultaneously lucky and sell your property for good money, or, you get stranded on it, and have no option but to glumly wait for the day it all gets swept away by a wave.

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      I frequent commenter at Climate Progress back about three years (Marc ……) would always drop in with a comment about Florida real estate being strong. He would also frequently claim that air and water in the US have never been so clean.

      Most of those who won’t lose their shirts are those that could afford to.

  2. “Russo says if she knew in 2015 what she knows now, she wouldn’t have purchased the house. People buying in her neighborhood today are probably just as clueless as she once was, she guesses. “I would bet money that the realtors are not telling them.” How much information do these idiots actually need? It’s not that difficult to sort fact from BS! What was George Wubbyas’ famous quote about “fool me once, um, fool me um, um, twice, or um” Sage advice!

  3. Canman Says:

    Judith Curry has a company, Climate Forecast Application Network (CFAN), which forcasts the paths of hurricanes. This is her take:

    In contrast with Texas, Florida is massively prepared for hurricanes, with strict building codes, emergency management procedures, and comprehensive procedures to rapidly restore electric power.

    That said, this is the biggest and baddest landfall strike in the U.S. in a long time. Irma is worse than Andrew (1992) and Wilma (2005), which were also Cat 5; Irma has a large horizontal extent, which means larger swath of hurricane force winds, bigger storm surge, more rainfall and tornadoes.

    Lets see how it plays out, but I anticipate that this will go much better than Hurricane Harvey and Houston.


  4. Lionel Smith Says:

    Lets see how it plays out, but I anticipate that this will go much better than Hurricane Harvey and Houston.

    Well I hope so for the sake of all those who live there, but Curry must be unbalanced to not appreciate the runaway shortly to bear down on Florida.

    Correction if you visit Wunderblog’s Wundermap at the link supplied below you can see, if you select Radar first and then satellite that Irma’s northern fringe is now over Miami with a lobe of storms spiralling out North of Orlando.

    The highest risk for the worst winds is in South Florida. The very strongest winds will be in the eyewall, especially just east of Irma’s center as it moves north. If Irma comes inland across far southwest Florida, it may pass directly over Naples, and the eyewall will extend across the Everglades and perhaps as far as portions of Miami. Winds will be stronger at the upper stories of high-rise buildings, up to a full category above surface-level speeds. We can expect many windows in the Miami area that are not up to current code to be blown out. Only a slight eastward departure in track could bring the core of the most dangerous winds to the Miami area. Hurricane-force winds are possible, and damaging tropical-storm-force winds are very likely, well up and down the west and east coasts of Florida, as well as inland, including the Orlando area.

    I would rather use the Hurricane peoples assessment that Judy’s wishful thinking. Maybe Judy will have the courage of her convictions and go down to Miami to see how it pans out. Thought not. How about you Canman?

    • Canman Says:

      Judy is clearly a “hurricane people” and her company is making important contributions:

      The challenge is to appropriately interpret these long-range forecasts in context of the uncertainties. CFAN has been making extended- and long-range hurricane forecasts since 2007. The value add from CFAN’s tropical cyclone forecasts includes:

      > proprietary tracking algorithm

      > calibration of tracks and intensities using historical track errors with the model reforecasts

      > probability forecasts of tropical cyclone genesis (formation)

      > dynamic cone of track uncertainty, derived from Monte Carlo resampling from the model hindmost track error distribution


  5. Lionel Smith Says:

    Judy is clearly a “hurricane people” and her company is making important contributions:…

    Important to whom?

    Alternatively: Hurricane Irma Lingering Over Northern Coast of Cuba; Irma Will Be a Dangerous Major Hurricane While Moving Over Florida Keys Sunday Morning

    Maybe it is time Judy came in from that limb she is on.

    More here.

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