Florida Flood Hub designed to predict state’s environmental hazards

Of the nearly 20 million people who live in Florida, about 15 million live in low-lying areas making the rising sea levels one of the state’s most serious environmental concerns.

Gary T. Mitchum, professor and associate dean of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science, chairs the Florida Flood Hub, a statewide applied research and innovation organization whose mission is to protect people, businesses, natural resources and coastal infrastructure.

The Florida Flood Hub was established two years ago as part of the Resilient Florida Act legislation, which provides money for cities and counties to increase their resilience to flooding risk.

“We are kind of the technical side of helping them translate the science into actual flooding risk assessments,” Mitchum says. “Once they do that, they can apply for money to do projects to increase their resilience.”

Cities are only just beginning to apply for the funds. In the Miami area, some initial applications have been made for pump stations to remove water after flooding. “Pumping water is very expensive but in low-lying areas, you have to get the water out somehow,” Mitchum says.

“I think that’s a good thing about the legislation. It is very much local. Cities and counties don’t have to all sit together and agree to do one big thing. They can each propose their own projects,” he added.

An eye-opening Flood Hub finding is the statewide increase in high or “king” tide flooding. The team analyzed tide gauge data from 89 coastal locations around the U.S. They created a statistical technique that combined natural fluctuations in tidal ranges with NOAA sea level rise scenarios to project high-tide flooding. Their analyses shows high tide events increasing significantly over the next 40 years.

For example, in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Mitchum lives, high tide events currently happen about 10 times a year. Between 2033 and 2043, this statistical model projects that these high tide events will increase to 70 per year 

While these may seem like deceptively low-impact events – a few inches of water on roads and parking lots. But the cost for businesses and municipalities is likely to be significant, Mitchum says.

For instance, even a small amount of standing saltwater can result in big potholes and other road degradation. And even more subtly, small flooding events keep people at home – away from restaurants, stores and other businesses. That cuts down on revenue and ultimately employment.

‘We should be able to run these models to say how often these events are going to happen and tell people, ‘This is what you have to plan for,’” Mitchum says