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Forecaster sees more sea level rise

Expert encourages local governments to prepare

Anne Snabes

Sarasota Herald-Tribune USA TODAY NETWORK

A climate expert warned that Florida is facing a “triple threat from water” in a warming climate at a recent conference in Sarasota.

Those three threats are sea level rise, storm surge and extreme rainfall, said Bob Bunting, the CEO of the Sarasotabased Climate Adaptation Center. He forecasted that the sea level will rise in Sarasota by 11 to 12 more inches by 2050.

Bunting encouraged local governments to prepare their infrastructure for sea level rise.

“When we build a road, have we raised it so that we can get people off the barrier islands? When we build a performing arts center, is it going to survive the 2030s and 2040s?” he asked during the Climate Adaptation Center’s thirdannual Florida Climate Conference last Thursday.

The event, which more than 150 people attended in person, featured talks by professors, business leaders and a former Miami congressman.

Sea level rise in Sarasota

Bunting and Stuart Waterman, the Climate Adaptation Center’s chief technology officer, described the three ways water threatens Florida – and other areas of the country – as the climate warms. One is sea level rise.

Because of climate change, the volume of the ocean is expanding and ice

See CLIMATE, Page 4C

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sheets and glaciers are melting, leading to global sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bunting, a former lead forecaster for the National Weather Service, said the sea level has risen about nine inches in Sarasota already, and he forecasts another 11 to 12 inches of rise by 2050.

This means that the sea level in Sarasota would be about 20 inches higher in 2050 than it was in 1950.

Bunting said there will be more rise in the 2030’s than in other decades because of the moon “wobble,” which means the moon’s path around Earth will cause higher tides in the mid-2030s.

“It’s really time to stop development of land that’s less than four or five feet above sea level,” he said.

Storm surge and extreme precipitation

Hurricanes are becoming stronger and the sea level is rising, so experts expect storm surges to become higher. Bunting said Florida’s west coast has a higher threat from storm surge than the east coast because the continental shelf is shallower on the west coast.

Bunting showed a video of the catastrophic surge on Fort Myers Beach in Hurricane Ian. He also urged people to know their home's elevation.

“It could mean your life,” he said. Bunting said local governments need to update their building codes to prepare for climate conditions in 2050.

The third “threat” described was extreme rainfall. Climate change is expected to cause more intense precipitation, meaning some inland areas will have to deal with flooding. Waterman, the Climate Adaptation Center’s CTO, said that Orlando had a record amount of rainfall last September – 22 inches – because of Hurricane Ian.

Kenneth Lacovara, a paleontologist, spoke about extinction events in prehistory and about the “sixth extinction,” which some scientists say is currently occurring.

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