Florida 2050 Forecast Script

This is Dr. Emily Schoerning with AR, and I’d like to say hello to all our friends in Florida!  I was nervous as I started research for this state, I was pretty sure I was going to learn things I didn’t really want to know.  And you might be feeling that as well.  But stuff you’re going to learn that’s scary, you need to remember it’s not immediate.  You’ve got some good years left.  These scary things, this is information that is going to help you make long term decisions, keep yourself and your family prosperous and safe as we move towards midcentury.

The 2050 outlook is not the same for every coastal city in Florida, there are some better and some worse.  Let’s get in there and look at these relative risks.   Let’s see what’s going on.  We’re going to rip off the bandaid first, look at sea level rise.  Then we’re going to talk about disaster trends, focusing on hurricanes and wildfire.  After that, we’ll talk about the warming trend and how that’ll impact the seasons, before moving on to changing species, including both invasives and opportunities.

Before we check out the sea level rise models, I want to share a quote from the federal report.  “The combined impacts of sea level rise and storm surge in the Southeast have the potential to cost up to $60 billion each year in 2050 under a higher scenario (RCP8.5).35 Even under a lower scenario (RCP4.5), projected damages are $56 billion in 2050, (in 2015 dollars, undiscounted).”

60 billion and 56 billion, those are pretty similar numbers, and they are both very large numbers.  A lot of those costs are coming from Florida and Louisiana.  And I have to say, unfortunately, Florida is in a similar boat to Louisiana here, where no matter if we manage to hold emissions down, we’re looking at a rough ride.

In a worst case scenario, Florida could lose almost 10% of its housing stock to the sea by 2100.  But we don’t do worst case scenario here, we look at most-likely scenarios.  So for 2050 we’re going to model a couple feet of rise on the gulf coast, and a foot of rise on the Atlantic coast.  We’ll start in the Keys, then we’ll go up the gulf, then the Atlantic.

*** talk about changes to the sea while you show the Keys, including coral bleaching and coral farming- and that coral farming can’t replace a whole landscape, it’s just for targeted restoration ***

So, you can see that’s rough.  And we have to remember, we’re not just worried about direct inundation.  We’re concerned about saltwater incursion, which is damaging to soil and to freshwater supplies.  And of course we’re also concerned about storm surge, and about hurricanes.  You can see that the buffers we used to rely on against these things will be gone.  You will get more flooding, more storm surge, right up in your housing stock. 

When we’re talking about that storm surge, you might remember Hurricane Irma.  Now that was bad.  Really messed up the Keys, 25% of buildings destroyed in the keys.  And we saw 3-5 feet of storm surge along the coast.  If you’re looking at that type of storm surge on top of two feet of sea level rise, well, let’s just model it for a minute, do a real rough model. 

In southeastern Florida the number of major substations exposed to flooding from a Category 3 storm could more than double by 2050.  And I want to show you this picture of how the hospitals could flood:

559 hospital flooding by hurricane category

So this is serious, and it makes us wonder, what’s up with the hurricanes?  We all probably have a sense they’re going to get worse, we know there are going to be more of them that undergo rapid intensification over the warming gulf.  Unfortunately, there’s some modeling that indicates more of them are going to smack right into Florida, let me show you.  Page 1492- hurricane modeling

So, all of this information about the sea level rise, the hurricanes, that all lets us know about intensification of a known threat for the area.  But now I think I need to bring your attention to a more unknown threat, a less familiar threat, and that is wildfire.  We are seeing extreme wildfires in Florida now, in spring 2022, up in the panhandle, and that’s from all the dead trees from recent hurricanes. 

As hurricanes get more intense, we’ll have more dead wood from direct impacts, and we will also see tree death from the changing weather conditions.  Let’s talk about that now, let’s look at the heatup.

HEAT- historically dramatic (756), (762) and future is also dramatic (763).  Even under 4.5, it’s going to get dramatically hotter in Florida.  These are some seriously warm summer nights.

We see a trend towards longer summers, too, longer intense daytime heat.  The trend across Florida is universal, looking at at least another month, many places another 2 months of summer over 86. 

Looking at plant hardiness zones HARDI we see that very few places in Florida will not see a pronounced shift in plant hardiness zone.  Almost everybody is moving up a zone, and we can see a substantial increase in zone 11, this is a true tropical zone that has not previously been seen much in the US.  This is a potentially interesting and valuable change, this would give us the ability to bring some new tropical agriculture here into the US.  A lot will depend on if and what degree of extreme heat we see here, how stable the new climate is, but there could be some really interesting agricultural opportunities here in southern and central Florida. 

We need to look at precipitation trends as we talk about agriculture, let’s switch gears for a minute and look at that.  Current trends see a decrease in rainfall across much of the state, kind of getting dryer.  With the saltwater incursion issue I’d want to get a clear eye on water trends and water sources as I planned long-term agricultural investment in this state.  Most cities in Florida right now are on aquifer water, and some farmers are also using groundwater for irrigation.  Right now, we’re looking at unsustainable draws on groundwater, and we could be looking at some aquifers become saline as the sea level rises- it’s a definite area of concern.

Okay, now that we’ve got those warming trends and changing water trends in mind, we can start looking at how species and ecosystems are shifting here in Florida.

Mangrove swamp will be pushing up north.  Right now, we can see these mangrove ecosystems these in the keys, the projections indicate that by 2050 they’ll be up near Orlando.  These guys are good, this is a good ecosystem to encourage- resilient, protective of the coasts.  The mangrove ecosystem is what you need to protect you from these hurricanes that are coming. This ecosystem absorbs storm surge and holds the coastline together like nothing else.  The more we can help this tough ecosystem move up north, that’s our blueprint for a healthy florida that is not entirely made up of Burmese pythons and Brazilian pepper trees. 

Everyone in Florida knows we have problems with those, and with other invasive species.  You have probably already seen this invasive mosquito, it is already establishing on the peninsula.  This type of mosquito carries some of the new tropical diseases that people have already been experiencing in the state, like when Zika broke out in 2016.  Now, this is a gross oversimplification, but tropical diseases really suck.  And for many of them, we still have only very limited treatments.  Public health is already a challenge in Florida, we expect the system to be further strained as we move towards mid-century.

We looked at a lot of rough things in this forecast.  We can see that there are some places here, some special places, that we probably can’t save.  The Florida Keys, we’re looking at habitats that are not going to be able to be preserved in place.   But we might think of shifting some of these ecosystems onto the mainland, onto Southern Florida, and help them move up the coast. 

There’s a lot of change here.  If you caught the Georgia forecast, you saw that a lot of the citrus-growing habitat in Florida was moving towards Georgia.  If you want to be successful in Florida in the long term, you need to think about anticipating and riding that level of change.  I would anticipate pretty severe and frequent disruptions here in Florida in the future, with that challenging hurricane outlook.  And as we see the landscapes shift, we do expect a lot of wildfire activity over the next 20-30 years, and that’s not what we typically think of when we think of Florida.  Dealing with new threats, that’s always a particularly strong strain on the infrastructure.

This addition of new, potentially valuable, true tropical habitat, I think that’s going to offer both challenge and opportunity.  On the whole, though, I think we have to face that this is a very difficult outlook for the state.  We can see on the coast, and particularly on the gulf coast, there will be serious impacts on communities, a lot of homes will be lost.  We’ve got some good years left, though. The sea level rise, it’ll accelerate towards 2030.  We know change is coming, but that doesn’t have to diminish our enjoyment of our present.  If you love these beautiful places, these beautiful beaches, I hope looking into the future inspires you to get out there as much as you can, now. 

This is Dr. Schoerning with AR, signing out.  Please like and subscribe, help get the message out there.  There is hope.  We can prepare for what’s coming.  Let’s get ready.