By Darryl Fears
28 July 2017

TAMPA BAY, Florida (The Washington Post) – Mark Luther’s dream home has a window that looks out to a world of water. He can slip out the back door and watch dolphins swim by his private dock. Shore birds squawk from nearby nests in giant mangroves.

He said it’s hard to imagine ever leaving this slice of paradise on St. Petersburg’s Bayou Grande, even though the water he adores is starting to get a little creepy.

Over the 24 years since he moved into the house, the bayou has inched up a protective sea wall and crept toward his front door. As sea level rises, a result of global warming, it contributes to flooding in his Venetian Isle neighborhood and Shore Acres, a neighboring community of homes worth as much as $2.5 million, about 70 times per year.

“Why stay?” asked Luther, an oceanographer who knows perfectly well a hurricane could one day shove 15 feet of water into his living room. “It’s just so nice.”

Tampa Bay is mesmerizing, with 700 miles of shoreline and some of the finest white sand beaches in the nation. But analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit.

A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.

Amount of high tide inundation under a Category 5 storm surge in Tampa Bay, Florida. Graphic: The Washington Post

Yet the bay area — greater Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — has barely begun to assess the rate of sea-level rise and address its effects. Its slow response to a major threat is a case study in how American cities reluctantly prepare for the worst, even though signs of impacts from climate change abound all around.

State leaders could be part of the reason. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly discouraged employees from using the words “climate change” in official communications. Last month, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved bills allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of evolution and global warming. […]

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s warning was even starker. Standing outside City Hall last year, he described what would happen if a hurricane as small as a category 3 with 110 to 130 mph winds hit downtown.

“Where you’re standing now would be 15 feet under water.” [more]

Tampa Bay’s coming storm

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