Climate Change in Central Florida

Climate change in Central Florida is creating extreme weather, such as flooding, due to the mix of inland freshwater and sealine, according to Marybeth Arcodia, a research scientist at Colorado State University whose work focuses on climate variability and predictability.

Sea level rise is caused globally by the ocean getting warmer and expanding, as well as ice from ice sheets melting and moving into the ocean, which then causes the sea level to rise, especially in low-lying coastal regions on both the east and west coasts of Central Florida.

“The primary, number one cause of global climate change is human-emitted greenhouse gasses,” said Ms. Arcoida. “This is carbon dioxide, methane.”

This has led to more high tide flooding events, also called sunny sky flooding events, because high tides, and not rainfall, are causing the streets to flood. There’s also been what’s known as saltwater intrusion, where the salty waters start to infiltrate the freshwater supplies. The other major issue with sea level rise is that the baseline of the sea level will be higher when hurricanes pass through, which causes storm surges to often be worse. Contributing to this factor is a loss of mangroves.

“They’re being cut down because they obstruct the view,” said Ms. Arcodia. “However, the mangroves have roots in the water — they help a lot with that saltwater intrusion. But they’re also barriers. So even if a hurricane were to come through, they can help reduce the impacts of both storm surge and general sea level rise.”

Ironically, drought can also be an issue. This is because of changes in rainfall patterns and higher temperatures due to climate change and the rapid development and water usage that strain on the available water resources.

“Also, we can expect to see on average, stronger hurricanes,” said Ms. Arcodia. “And so as the ocean gets warmer, the ocean is fuel or gasoline for hurricanes, providing more energy.”

As sea surface temperatures rise, they increase the evaporation rate, pumping more moisture into storms. This process, known as the heat engine effect, amplifies a hurricane’s intensity by providing additional energy, leading to stronger and potentially more destructive storms.