Photo Source: Miami Herald via Green Peace, AP File 2006

Our global warming crisis continues to become more foreboding. Today the Herald reported findings from a recent study that predicts serious local climate change in South Florida’s future. According to the study, which is one of the first to predict local climate change stemming from global warming, by 2100 South Florida will likely have a novel climate that is warmer, drier, and unlike any other on Earth. Among the findings:

  • Mean temperatures in South Florida could rise by 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer/wet season (+ 3 ½ degrees in the winter/dry season)
  • High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90’s can be expected during the summer/wet season
  • Much drier conditions: 3 ½ fewer inches of rainfall during the wet season (Note: Drier does not mean less humid)
  • Even if worldwide action reduces greenhouse gas emissions, 4-20 percent of the world’s land could experience novel climates
These findings have grave implications for South Florida. As I noted above, a “drier” climate does not mean a less humid climate. High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s coupled with high humidity would make it feel like 110-120 degrees based on heat indexes. Also to consider, the 5-7 degree rise is in mean temperature, which is the average temperature over a 24-hour period. For the last 30 years, Miami’s mean temperature has averaged about 83 degrees during the peak of the summer/wet season. If the predictions are true, then our average daily temperatures could be as high as 90 degrees! Imagine stifling days with highs of 95 and lows of 85. Factor in humidity, and even our nights would feel as warm as 100 degrees!

All of this does not even consider the potentially catastrophic effects of rising sea levels, increased frequency of major hurricanes, drought, and the decimation of the Everglades. It is now critical that we begin making major changes in the way we live and the way our cities function. Given the implications of climate change in South Florida, you would think that our region would be on the leading edge of sustainable urban planning. Sadly, as we all know, this is not currently the case. Yes, Mayor Diaz should be complemented for his green building proposal, Miami 21, and the Miami Streetcar initiative, but this barely scratches the surface of sustainability. We need a progressive, regional effort to significantly reduce our dependence on the automobile, boost alternative transportation modes, and design sustainable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. We cannot wait any longer to act.

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13 Responses to Climate Change and South Florida

  1. Paul305 says:

    GAH! After writing an excessively long rant about how stupid the Herald is for citing a study that doesn’t exist, I finally found the study they were referring to. It was led by a JOHN Williams not JACK Williams. No wonder I couldn’t find the damned thing, the Herald is just a sub-par rag that can’t even get names right these days. Now, I don’t have time to read the thing…

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  2. Ryan says:

    Paul, I probably should have linked to the study. Anyway, I believe “Jack” is the nickname for John Williams. You’re right, though – the Herald probably should have referenced John Williams instead of using his nickname. For a quick briefing on the study, link to the Herald’s article from the above post and then listen to the audio.

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  3. Xavier says:

    Not to diminish all other global warming concerns, the potential rise in the sea level is what is really worrisome. What does it matter if its hotter, if our city is under water?

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  4. Ryan says:

    You’re absolutely right, Xavier. I think for many people, however, it is tough to imagine the catastrophic effects of sea level rise because they probably cannot yet relate. However, all South Floridians can relate to oppressive heat and humidity, so I think it’s important to use that as a context for understanding what may be in store for our future if we do not start living more sustainably.

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  5. Henry Gomez says:

    My understanding is that local climate change has more to do with deforestation and urbanization than with co2 or greenhouse gases. It’s a separate phenomenon from the global warming that greenhouse gases are supposed to cause.

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  6. Ryan says:

    Henry, although you are right that deforestation and urbanization can affect climate locally, these are by no means the principle factors used by scientists to predict future climate change. South Florida’s future climate change will result from the comprehenisve phenomenon of global warming – it just so happens South Florida may have a novel climate unlike any other on earth by 2100.

    The study concludes that the tropics/subtropics throughout the world will be one of the most affected areas by global warming. South Florida falls within this category, however it is predicted we could have a different climate from, say, Indonesia, even though both areas may suffer equally from climate change.

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  7. Jeff says:

    > Not to diminish all other global warming concerns, the potential rise in the sea level is what is really worrisome. What does it matter if its hotter, if our city is under water?

    Relax. It won’t be. The most pessimistic scenario imaginable (from reputable scientists quoted at wikipedia, at least) is 2-3 feet of rise by 2100, absolutely positively worst-case runaway-global-warming-max… and it would be pretty hard to “achieve” even THAT much of a rise. A foot, maybe, is the most likely rise. By the time sea levels rise 10 feet, the human race will have either colonized Mars, or been destroyed by a planet-killing asteroid anyway.

    In all likelihood, if nobody pointed it out to you, you won’t even notice any year to year change. Over the span of a decade, you might notice an old measuring stick lashed to a dock now reads an inch or two higher than you remember it being long, long ago… but even then, you wouldn’t be sure unless you’d written it down a decade earlier.

    Why? Most northern-hemisphere ice is floating, and already occupies most of the space it would take up if fully melted. Remember, most of an iceberg is underwater, and frozen water takes up slightly more room than liquid water. And that ice represents just a tiny volume of overall ocean volume.

    Even if Greenland and Antarctica routinely started having summers as hot as Miami’s, thick ice sheets don’t melt overnight. Or even over decades. Remember, as the outermost ice melts, it turns to water. From that point, additional energy gets divided between melting more ice and warming the already-melted ice so it evaporates.

    The pictures of retreating glaciers that climate-change extremists show all the time are of glaciers that were barely glaciers anymore to begin with, and were on their way out since the last ice age anyway. Full-bore rapid deglaciation is roughly a mile of retreat per year. For most glaciers, it’s measured in feet per year. At either rate, Greenland and Antarctica are really, REALLY big, and it’s going to take a really, REALLY long time to deglaciate them… assuming winter snowfall didn’t undo most of the previous summer’s melting. And while I’m at it, roughly 1/4-1/3 of Antarctica’s glaciers are floating ice, too. So unless Kim Jong Il decides to throw a few nukes at Greenland and Antarctica (which probably WOULD accelerate things a bit by pumping massive amounts of water vapor into the air), the inrushing tsunamis of hundred-foot waves due to rising sea levels speeding towards land to flood our cities is a myth.

    Are sea levels likely to rise? Yes. Are they likely to rise faster than the Army Corps of Engineers can beat them back into submission? No. Fearmongering aside, you’re not going to look out the window tomorrow and see fifty foot tsunamis inundating Miami due to global warming. Nor next month, year, decade, or century.

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  8. Paul305 says:

    Jeff’s right. Most studies have shown that Antarctica’s and Greenland’s ice shelfs won’t collapse for another 250 years or so. Each one could contribute as much as 20 feet of water. However, this 40 foot change isn’t going to happen any time soon and it isn’t going to occur at a steady rate either. Instead, the rate of change in sea level will follow an exponential curve as the ice shelfs gain momentum and melt water helps lubricate the glaciers’ flow. The first 100 years or so will be uneventful while the last few years of sea level change will likely be catastrophic.

    Also, I read the study finally and it doesn’t say anything necessarily bad about our region. It predicts that we will have a “novel” climate (or new climate). Since species in tropical climates experience little variation, they have become more vulnerable to climate change. Then when a new climate comes along, these species are replaced with better adapted species.

    Since Miami has already been taken over by Australian Pines, Cattails, Pepper trees, Iguanas, Boa constrictors, and a variety of other invasive species, the effects of a “novel” climate will just be more of the same.

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  9. Ryan says:

    First of all, Paul you need to listen to the audio like I recommended above. In the interview, one of the scientists who did the study mentions some predictions more relevant to South Florida. Secondly, Jeff and Paul, are you seriously saying that we don’t have to worry about sea level rise?

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  10. Paul305 says:

    Basically, yes.

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  11. Jeff says:

    Yup.

    So it gets hotter. Big whoop. We need air conditioning 365 days/year instead of 357. It’s not like it could possibly get more humid than 100%. Even when it’s 65, we still need to run the AC because it’s 99% humidity. There’s a certain wet bulb temperature point at which you just can’t really be any more miserable outdoors than you already are… and for most of the year, we’re well past that point anyway.

    Less rain? Hell, if it rained less and became less humid, that’s cause for *CELEBRATION*. It means we’d have NICER WEATHER than we have now.

    Food? Please. 99% of the food at Publix ALREADY comes from Arizona, Georgia, Mexico, Nebraska, and China. In the grand scheme of things, food grown in Dade County is basically irrelevant to the daily lives of consumers here. Plus, in 50 years, there won’t BE farms LEFT in Dade County, because every square inch of land outside the Everglades will be urbanized, and the last farmer will have long since sold the farm to Lennar and retired to a resort town somewhere in Mexico.

    I don’t even think most of the CITRUS sold here is from Florida, because most Florida citrus goes straight to frozen orange juice concentrate, and the waste gets used to make the cheap Triple-Sec and vodka. Florida citrus isn’t pretty enough to wax and sell as citrus because it’s not a uniform orange color. Besides, at the rate Orlando is sprawling, there won’t BE any citrus groves LEFT in 50 years, because the land they’re on will all have been sold to developers for condos and golf courses.

    Water? That’s why the Army Corps of Engineers invented Lake Okeechobee. It’s REALLY a big artificial reservoir. If push came to shove, we could just dike the entire everglades and turn it into an even BIGGER reservoir… filling up when we have hurricanes, draining off when we have dry years. Of course, the environmentalists would go into convulsions by that point… but you could almost count THAT as a bonus :-D

    Hurricanes? That’s why god invented reinforced concrete, and made it available for roof-building. If hurricanes become a common event, within a decade or two we’ll have engineered them into irrelevance (buried utilities. concrete roofs, aquarium-glass storefront windows, etc). Think about it… in Dade County, a direct hit by a Category 1 hurricane that would cripple half the state of North Carolina for a week is roughly equivalent to a “snow day” in upstate New York. The hardening process has already begun.

    In the grand scheme of things, some areas will be harmed by climate change. Other areas will benefit. America’s a big country, with plenty of climactic diversity. If Nebraska turns into a desert, who’s to say Alaska and North Dakota won’t bloom? If Florida dries up, maybe Nevada will turn into a jungle. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because NOTHING we do will make the slightest bit of difference anyway. Rather than waste resources trying in vain to preserve the status quo, we might as well embrace it and find creative new ways to profit and benefit from it.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    well said

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  13. Paul305 says:

    Most scientists would tell you that while global warming is responsible for an increase in the intensity of hurricanes (as much as 10% faster wind speeds over the next 75 years), it is also responsible for a decrease in hurricane frequency. For example, the 2006 hurricane season was weakened by an increase in La Nina conditions and in the amount of Saharan Air Layers (basically dust.) Both of these events will occur longer and more often as the atmosphere gets warmer.

    Btw, I still think we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The possibility that it won’t affect us doesn’t justify the fact that it will almost definitely create a global disaster for future generations. I just like playing the devil’s advocate.

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