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Rising Seas May Mean Tampa Bay Floods Even During Sunny Days

For the view on the right, elevations below 16 feet above sea level have been colored dark blue, and lighter blue indicates elevations below 33 feet. This is an illustration of how Florida's low topography make it vulnerable to flooding
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Tampa Bay was named in a recent federal climate report as one of the top cities in Florida that is vulnerable to rising seas - along with low-lying Miami and Apalachicola.

The report, the Third National Climate Assessment, also warned that climate change would drive increases in harmful algae blooms off Florida’s coast, worsening seasonal allergies for people already made miserable by springtime pollen and heavier rainstorms and flooding in low-lying areas.

A group of scientists, engineers and planners touched on these topics during the Sea Level Rise conference Friday and Saturday at St. Petersburg College's Seminole campus.

The Bay area's miles of coastline and flat topography mean that we may soon experience flooding - even when no storms are raging. That warning was reinforced by Doug Marcy, a coastal hazards specialist for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"The Tampa region has experienced almost a foot of sea level rise in the past 100 years," Marcy said. "What that means is for any given storm surge, we may have - or even high tides - have more impacts. We're crossing over these thresholds more often, so they're starting to impact on even sunny days."

Marcy said he recently was in Charleston, S.C., where city council members discussed raising a road next to the river. And they were questioning how they could convince taxpayers that planning for 50 years ahead is the right thing to do - now. That kind of thing, Marcy said, is going to become more common across the country.

"So in many cases, they're just fixing the current problems," he said. "They're not really going out - what does it really need to look like 50 years from now. That's a really hard question. So it really is a paradigm shift in how people think about the future."

In many cases, stormwater sewer systems are backing up into streets during high tides. So places such as Miami Beach are having to redesign their underground utilities.

"They're starting to take into account, or maybe design these systems for new construction with a little bit more rigor, to include higher elevations for sea level rise or to be able to handle more rainfall," Marcy said.


Copyright 2019 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.