The Reasons Behind Worsening Storm Surges Across Southwest Florida: Rising Sea Levels and Water Temperatures are two main factors impacting the Gulf Coast

Florida, aka “The Sunshine State,” recognized for pristine beaches and nearly daily bouts of bright skies, is considered a “hot spot,” according to scientists. And not in a good way. Around the world and across coastal communities, the effects of climate change continue to have a direct impact, particularly when it comes to worsening storm surges across our Southwest Florida counties (Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier).          

Briefly defined, a storm surge is an abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm caused solely by the storm itself. With Hurricane Season soon upon us (beginning in June and ending in November) and Ian, a near Cat-5 storm not yet in Southwest Floridian’s rearview mirror, people may have thought the 155 MPH winds were mainly to blame for the approximately 14-foot waves flooding inland, taking lives, and causing billions of dollars in damaged property. Many factors are at play in driving the increased frequency and intensity of storm surges, with two rising to the top: higher sea levels and warmer waters. 

“The sea level rise we’ve seen along the coastline over the past 100 years is equal to what we will see in the next 30 years,” shared Ben Hamlington, team lead of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team, in a November 2023 WINK News interview. He added, “Some of the highest amounts of future sea level rise were found along the Southwest Florida coast.” Further, NASA experts have forecasted sea levels could rise another 12-inches or more by 2050.

In an October 2023 Journal of Marine Science and Engineering article, “Coastal Morphodynamics and Climate Change: A Review of Recent Advances,” Lynn Donelson Wright, Dean and Director and Professor of Marine Science, Emeritus, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary and Bruce Graham Thom AM, professor, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney analyze the complexities contributing to climate change having referenced various scientific data points. Coastal Morphodynamics means the study of the seafloor’s shape and structure along with sediment’s motion and its resulting impacts. 

Professors Wright and Thom note that one of the most significant climate change influencers in rising temperatures on land and in water is the atmosphere’s ability to retain more heat due to higher atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations. NASA concurs, having issued the following statement on its website, “Human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are the only factors that can account for the observed warming over the last century that is driving the observed sea-level rise; there are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration explains sources of greenhouse gases include burning fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal to generate energy, while others coming from power plants, landfills, and industrial and waste management activities are collectively behind the climate crisis, warming our planet and raising sea levels, resulting in more frequent and greater storm surges over time.


  4.; – What is a storm surge?