Florida Keys Deliver a Hard Message: As Seas Rise, Some Places Can’t Be Saved
KEY WEST, Fla. — Officials in the Florida Keys announced what many coastal governments nationwide have long feared, but few have been willing to admit: As seas rise and flooding gets worse, not everyone can be saved.
And in some places, it doesn’t even make sense to try.
On Wednesday morning, Rhonda Haag, the county’s sustainability director, released the first results of the county’s yearslong effort to calculate how high its 300 miles of roads must be elevated to stay dry, and at what cost. Those costs were far higher than her team expected — and those numbers, she said, show that some places can’t be protected, at least at a price that taxpayers can be expected to pay.
“I never would have dreamed we would say ‘no,’” Haag said in an interview. “But now, with the real estimates coming in, it’s a different story. And it’s not all doable.”
The results released Wednesday focus on a single 3-mile stretch of road at the southern tip of Sugarloaf Key, a small island 15 miles up U.S. Highway 1 from Key West. To keep those 3 miles of road dry year-round in 2025 would require raising it by 1.3 feet, at a cost of $75 million, or $25 million per mile. Keeping the road dry in 2045 would mean elevating it 2.2 feet, at a cost of $128 million. To protect against expected flooding levels in 2060, the cost would jump to $181 million.
And all that to protect about two dozen homes.
“I can’t see staff recommending to raise this road,” Haag said. “Those are taxpayer dollars, and as much as we love the Keys, there’s going to be a time when it’s going to be less population.”
The people who live on that 3-mile stretch of road were less understanding. If the county feels that other parts of the Keys ought to be saved, said Leon Mense, a 63-year-old office manager at a medical clinic, then at least don’t make him pay for it.
“So somebody in the city thinks they deserve more of my tax money than I do?” Manse asked. “Then don’t charge us taxes, how does that sound?”
She suggested the county could offer residents a ferry, water taxis, or some other kind of boat during the expanding window during which the road is expected to go underwater during the fall high tides.
“If that’s three months a year for the next 20 years, and that gets them a decade or two, that’s perhaps worth it,” Haag said. “We can do a lot. But we can’t do it all.”
At a climate change conference in Key West on Wednesday, Roman Gastesi, the Monroe County manager, said elected leaders will have to figure out how to make those difficult calls.
“How do you tell somebody, ‘We’re not going to build the road to get to your home’? And what do we do?” Gastesi asked. “Do we buy them out? And how do we buy them out — is it voluntary? Is it eminent domain? How do we do that?”
Administrators and elected officials are going to have to start to rely on a “word nobody likes to use,” Gastesi said, “and that’s ‘retreat.’”
The county’s elected officials must now decide whether to accept that recommendation. The mayor of Monroe County, Heather Carruthers, said she hopes the cost of raising the roads turns out to be lower than what her staff have found, as the need for adaptation leads to better technology.
Still, Carruthers said, “We can’t protect every single house.”
Asked how she expected residents would respond, Carruthers said she expects pushback. “I’m sure that some of them will be very irate, and we’ll probably face some lawsuits,” she said. “But we can’t completely keep the water away.”
The odds of the county winning future possible lawsuits over the policy are unclear. The novelty of what the Keys’ officials are proposing is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that nobody can say for certain whether it’s legally defensible.
The law generally requires local governments to maintain roads and other infrastructure, because failure to do so will reduce the property value of surrounding homes, according to Erin Deady, a lawyer who specializes in climate and land-use law and is a consultant to the county on adapting to rising seas. But local officials retain the right to decide whether or not to upgrade or enhance that infrastructure.
What’s unclear, Deady said, is whether raising a road to prevent it from going underwater is more akin to maintaining or upgrading. That’s because no court has yet ruled on the issue.
“The law hasn’t caught up with that,” Deady said.
She said she thinks the county is within its rights to refuse to elevate the road at the end of Sugarloaf Key, so long as it’s transparent about the rationale for that decision. “At some point, there’s an economic consideration,” she said. “We can’t manage every condition.”
The debates over county spending and legal precedents will determine the future of Old State Road 4A, two lanes of asphalt tucked between mangroves that mostly obscure the water threatening it from all around. On a recent afternoon, the only signs of life on this road were the occasional passing car, along with the gates many of the road’s few residents have erected to keep unwanted visitors out of their driveways.
Henry Silverman, a retired teacher from Long Island in New York, bought a house on the southern edge of Sugarloaf Key 10 years ago. The building’s first floor is 18 feet off the ground; a boardwalk cuts through a forest of mangroves to his boat launch. His wife, Melissa, said that when farmers burn sugar cane in Cuba, 90 miles to the south, they can see the plumes of smoke from their roof and even smell the sugar.
Still, climate change is encroaching on their treehouse paradise. Hurricane Irma in 2017 blew out their screens and pushed water through the windows. Each high tide brings the saltwater a little bit closer, killing the palm trees under the deck and popping the wooden slats off the boardwalk. The couple used to fly down from Long Island in a Cessna, until one day the runway at the island’s airport was underwater.
“What’s government for? They’re supposed to protect your property,” Silverman said from behind the wheel of his shallow skiff boat on a recent afternoon.
The couple listed the variety of jobs that depend on the people who live on this street: Landscapers, construction workers, caterers, carpenters, the restaurants up the road. “There’s a lot of trickle-down,” Silverman said.
Still, he conceded that it might be difficult to generate sympathy among the broader public for the plight of this neighborhood. “Nobody feels sorry for anybody living down here,” Silverman said, gesturing across the water to the gated mansions that line the shore.
Mense, who lives in the last house on the road, suggested that officials focus instead on slowing global warming, without which no amount of adaptation will be enough for these islands.
“Maybe we should think about stopping, or trying to stop, the cause of the water rising,” Mense said. “At what point will the road be high enough?”
Others seemed resigned. Georgia Siegel, a 73-year-old yoga teacher who grew up in Buffalo, New York, and moved here 20 years ago, said that if the government decided this area can’t be sustained, she would simply leave.
“What am I going to do?” Seigel asked, standing on the narrow beach in front of the home that she and her husband built. “It’s a problem that’s bigger than me.”
Not everyone was so sanguine about the prospect. A woman who lives in one of the more modest homes along this road, who asked not to be identified for fear that discussing flooding would hurt her property value, said she worried what the county’s plans mean for her future.
“This is all I have,” she said, gesturing to her house next to the water. “If that road goes under, I go under.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2019 The New York Times Company
More devastating fires in California. Persistent drought in the Southwest. Record flooding in Europe and Africa. A heat wave, of all places, in Greenland.
Climate change and its effects are accelerating, with climate related disasters piling up, season after season.
“Things are getting worse,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, which Tuesday issued its annual state of the global climate report, concluding a decade of what it called exceptional global heat. “It’s more urgent than ever to proceed with mitigation.”
But reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change will require drastic measures, Taalas said. “The only solution is to get rid of fossil fuels in power production, industry and transportation,” he said.
Seas are warming and rising faster, putting more cities at risk of tidal flooding or worse. Glaciers are melting at a pace many researchers did not expect for decades. The amount of Arctic sea ice has declined so rapidly that the region may see ice-free summers by the 2030s.
Even the ground itself is warming faster. Permanently frozen ground, or permafrost, is thawing more rapidly, threatening the release of large amounts of long-stored carbon that could in turn make warming even worse, in what scientists call a climate feedback loop.
In a recent commentary in the journal Nature, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany and other institutions warned that the acceleration of ice loss and other effects of climate change have brought the world “dangerously close” to abrupt and irreversible changes, or tipping points. Among these, the researchers said, were the collapse of at least part of the West Antarctic ice sheet — which itself could eventually raise sea levels by 4 feet or more — or the loss of the Amazon rainforest.
“In our view, the consideration of tipping points helps to define that we are in a climate emergency,” they wrote.
The societal toll is accelerating, too, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in Madrid before the opening this week of the U.N.’s annual climate conference. “Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent, more deadly, more destructive, with growing human and financial costs,” he said.
For individual extreme weather events or other disasters it can be difficult to fully separate the effects of global warming from those of natural climate variability and other factors. Warming can make wildfires worse, for example — it makes vegetation drier and more combustible — but forest management practices, as well as decisions about where to build, also affect the degree of devastation.
Yet a growing number of studies have shown the influence of global warming in many disasters. Heat waves in Europe in June and July, extreme rainfall in Texas during Tropical Storm Imelda in September, the drought that precipitated the “Day Zero” water crisis in Cape Town in 2018 are among many events shown to have been made more likely, more intense, or both, by climate change.
Effects like loss of sea ice, more severe heat waves and changes in rainfall patterns were long predicted by scientists and described in reports like those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and, in the United States, the National Climate Assessments produced by federal researchers.
“So much of what we’re seeing is exactly consistent with what’s expected from climate change,” said Philip B. Duffy, a physicist and president of the Woods Hole Research Center, which studies the environment.
At the root of the changes is the basic process of global warming. As carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere, they trap more of the heat that radiates from Earth’s surface as it absorbs sunlight.
The WMO’s state of the global climate report, released at the Madrid talks, said that this decade will almost certainly be the warmest decade on record. And the second half of the decade was much warmer than the first, with global temperatures averaged over the second half about 0.2 degree Celsius (about 0.4 degree Fahrenheit) higher.
“All the time we’re breaking records in temperatures,” Taalas said.
The records extend to the oceans as well, which absorb about 90% of the excess heat retained by Earth as a result of increased greenhouse gases. Average ocean temperatures this year exceed those of 2018, which were records, the report said.
Since the rise of industry in the second half of the 19th century, when widespread emissions of greenhouse gases began, the world has warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius.
But how fast temperatures will continue to increase, and how much worse things may get, depends in large part on whether the world reins in greenhouse gas emissions, and by how much. After flattening between 2014 and 2016, annual emissions from burning fossil fuels for energy have risen again.
The 2015 Paris agreement called for countries to pursue efforts to limit warming this century to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, with an even stricter target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the United States under President Donald Trump is leaving the agreement, and a U.N. report last month suggested that even if countries meet their pledges to cut emissions, and many are far off track, warming would be more than twice the 1.5-degree target.
Acceleration of some elements of climate change has been expected, and has now been detected thanks to improvements in measurements. Sea level readings, for example, are now far more extensive, frequent and precise thanks to satellite sensors in use for the last quarter-century. In the past, scientists had to rely on tide gauges.
Using satellite data, a 2018 study found that global sea level rise is now about 4.5 millimeters a year, or a little less than one-fifth of an inch. The rate is increasing by about a 10th of a millimeter a year.
“We knew the rate of sea level rise was increasing, but we had difficulty detecting that,” said Steven Nerem, a University of Colorado researcher and lead author of the study.
The study estimated that the acceleration would result in sea level rise by the end of this century of 65 centimeters, or about 25 inches, which is more than double the rise if the rate had remained constant.
Sea level rise results from a combination of melting glaciers and ice sheets, and the thermal expansion of seawater as ocean temperatures rise. As with most of the projected effects of climate change, there is a high level of uncertainty about future sea levels.
“No one is terribly sure about what will happen by 2100,” Nerem said. “If the ice sheets really start to go, things could change dramatically.”
Greenland and Antarctica hold enough ice to raise seas by about 220 feet if it all melted. Complete melting would take many centuries, but melting is speeding up on the Greenland sheet, which currently contributes about two-thirds of a millimeter to sea level rise annually, and on much of the West Antarctic sheet.
“This is a consequence of the warming temperatures of climate change,” said Marco Tedesco, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
“Overall, we do not expect Greenland to slow down,” he said. “And we definitely expect an acceleration in mass loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet.” While the West Antarctic sheet currently contributes a small amount to sea level rise, eventually it could contribute as much as Greenland, he said.
Amid the long term increase in ice-sheet melting there have been some exceptional periods, including this summer in Greenland, when heat from Europe spread north, resulting in temperatures as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Overall this year, Greenland had a net ice loss of about 350 billion tons, about 20% more than the average in recent years and enough to add 1 millimeter to sea levels by itself.
A recent analysis by Tedesco and a colleague showed that a rare combination of atmospheric conditions, related to instability of the polar jet stream that encircles Earth at high northern latitudes, led to this summer’s melting. Some scientists have suggested that this jet stream instability, or wobbling, is a result of climate change, although the idea is not completely accepted.
Warming in the Far North affects more than ice. Louise Farquharson, a geologist and researcher at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, studies the effect of climate change on permafrost. In the Arctic, ground can be permanently frozen from near the surface to several thousand feet deep.
“We see warming across the board, and generally the rate of warming is increasing,” Farquharson said. “But the impact varies significantly.”
Her recent research found rapid thawing of permafrost high in the Canadian Arctic, where there is little surface vegetation to insulate the frozen ground. By 2016 the permafrost had already thawed at depths not expected until 2090 under a model of “moderate” global warming.
While the permafrost at her study sites contains little organic matter, much of the Arctic’s permafrost contains large amounts of dead vegetation built up over hundreds or thousands of years. This makes it a huge storehouse of carbon: By some estimates, Arctic permafrost contains about twice as much carbon as is currently in the atmosphere.
When it thaws, the organic matter begins to decompose, and the carbon enters the atmosphere as methane or carbon dioxide, adding to warming.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2019 The New York Times Company
Don’t get used to the mild weather that’s coming this weekend. Another Arctic blast is on the way next week, one that will bring bitterly cold temperatures to portions of the central U.S.
As the cold air arrives, temperatures are forecast to plummet by 30 degrees from one day to the next over the central states from the Great Lakes to the southern Plains, AccuWeather said.
„Very cold temperatures are expected to enter the northern Plains and Upper Midwest during the beginning of next week, with the coldest temperatures forecast to occur on Wednesday,” the National Weather Service said. „Highs below zero and lows around -20 degrees are possible across northern portions of the region.”
The weather probably will be the coldest of the season in that region, and it will feel even colder when the wind is factored in, according to the Weather Channel.
Highs may be only in the teens in Chicago and Milwaukee by next Wednesday.
To the east, temperatures are likely to take a big and sudden plunge Tuesday and Wednesday as the Arctic front sweeps through, the Capital Weather Gang predicted.
New York City could fail to rise above freezing by next Thursday, the Weather Channel said, and highs in the 40s could be widespread all the way into Arkansas, Tennessee and the mid-South.
As the frigid air blasts across the unfrozen and mild waters of the Great Lakes, bands of heavy lake-effect snow and snow squalls are likely to develop, AccuWeather said. States such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York could see the most snow.
„In the past, patterns of this nature during December have unleashed feet of snow with whiteout conditions in localized areas downwind of the Great Lakes,” said Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arctic blast next week: Cold front to hit Chicago, Milwaukee, New York
In the Philippines, Typhoon Kammuri wrought havoc on islands and provinces south of the capital Manila
At least four people are known to have died after a powerful typhoon ripped through the Philippines, officials said Wednesday, with high-speed winds prompting large-scale evacuations, tearing off roofs and shutting down Manila airport.
Typhoon Kammuri wreaked havoc on islands and provinces south of the capital Manila on Tuesday, sending nearly 600,000 people fleeing their homes, civil defence officials said.
Three people died on the islands of Mindoro and Marinduque after being hit by falling trees and other objects, and a fourth drowned on the island of Leyte, police and officials reported.
„Our hope is those (deaths) would be the last,” civil defence official Mark Timbal told AFP.
The impact could have been worse if not for the preparations made by communities and local governments however, Timbal added, with several provinces reporting zero casualties.
„We saw an improvement in the behaviour of the people who are now more willing to participate in evacuation procedures,” said Timbal, who is the spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
„Social media is a factor, while people also became more concerned over their safety in light of the series of deadly earthquakes that hit the country in recent months.”
„Pre-emptive evacuation was the key,” said Sher Saises, a civil defence official in the central city of Tacloban — ground zero for Super Typhoon Haiyan, the country’s deadliest on record which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.
Other civil defence officials who spoke to AFP described how residents, including about half a million from the Bicol region southeast of Manila, sought safety from high waves, floods and landslides days before the storm made landfall.
Manila airport shut down for 12 hours Tuesday as a precaution, affecting nearly 500 flights, while half the day’s programme at the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by Manila and nearby cities, was rescheduled over safety concerns.
Four other people drowned in the Bicol region this week during the passage of Kammuri, police told AFP, but added they could not immediately determine whether these deaths were typhoon-related.
The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year, killing hundreds and putting people in disaster-prone areas in a state of constant poverty.
Earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions are also frequent hazards.
Key point: In the end, the air attack accomplished what the midget submarines could not.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy rained devastation upon the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But Japanese warplanes didn’t actually fire the first shots that brought America into a massive Pacific War.
An hour before the air attack, a squadron of tiny Japanese midget submarines attempted to slip into the harbor’s defenses, like burglars in the night, to wreak havoc on Battleship Row. Unlike the aerial assault, the sailors failed spectacularly — and the story is often forgotten.
By the 1930s, Imperial Japan and the United States were set on a collision course. Tokyo’s decision to invade China in 1931 and intensify their brutal campaign six years had provoked ultimately irrevocable tensions.
The United States responded to the incursion into China with increasing sanctions, culminating with an embargo on petroleum in July 1941 that crippled the Japan’s economy. Japanese military leaders had wanted to capture the Dutch East Indies to secure its oil wealth, but knew it would trigger war with the Unites States.
While U.S.-Japanese negotiations came within striking distance of a peace agreement, Roosevelt was a hard bargainer, demanding Japan’s leaders order a complete withdrawal from China. They refused.
Thus, Japanese Adm. Yamamoto began planning for a “short victorious war.” The key to this idea was knocking out the battleships of the U.S. Pacific fleet at their home base of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to buy the Japanese Army time to complete the conquest of the Western Pacific.
Along with a massive air strike from a Japanese carrier task force would constitute the main attack, the Navy coordinated the undersea assault using midget submarines.
During World War II, Japan, England, Italy and Germany all employed midget submarines to stealthily infiltrate shallow, defended harbors and attack vulnerable capital ships. The Japanese Navy’s midget submarines had hidden their developments by calling the ships Type A Kō-hyōteki , or “Target A”
Japanese officials hoped the designation would deceive foreign analysts into believing the 78-feet long submarines were actually mock ships for naval gunnery practice. In reality, each of the 46-ton subs had a crew of two and was armed with two 450-millimeter Type 97 torpedoes with 800 pound warheads.
- The devastating Japanese attack began Sunday at 7:48 a.m., eventually killing 2,402 Americans and wounding many others, sinking four battleships and damaging many more.
- The Pearl Harbor attack spurred America into World War II. Here are photographs from the attack and its immediate aftermath.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
December 7, 1941 began as a perfect Sunday morning for the troops serving the US fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Under a early morning South Pacific sun, softball teams were lining up on the beach. Pitchers warmed up their arms, while batting rosters were finalized and the wives and kids came over from seaside church services.
They did not know that for hours the Japanese naval fleet and air forces had been speeding across the ocean toward America’s Pacific base. There, like a string of pearls draped across the docks and waterfront, was the majority of America’s naval might.
The devastating Japanese onslaught began at 7:48 a.m., eventually killing 2,402 Americans and wounding many others, sinking four battleships and damaging many more.
The Pearl Harbor attack spurred America into World War II, leading ultimately to Allied victory over the Japanese in the East and Nazis and other Axis powers in the West. And the country promised never to forget this day of infamy.
Here are photographs from the attack and its immediate aftermath.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, an attack planned by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto to demobilize the US Navy was carried out.
Around 7 a.m., an Army radar operator spotted the first wave of the Japanese planes. The officers who received these reports did not consider them significant enough to take action.
The Japanese hit most of the US ships in Oahu before 9 a.m.
The Japanese also took the opportunity to attack military airfields while bombing the fleet in Pearl Harbor. The purpose of these simultaneous attacks was to destroy American planes before they could respond.
More than 90 ships were anchored at Pearl Harbor. The primary targets were the eight battleships in Battleship Row.
The USS West Virginia, left, was one of the battleships to sink during the attack. The Japanese successfully damaged all eight.
At about 8:10 a.m., the USS Arizona exploded as a bomb ignited its forward ammunition magazine. About half of the total number of Americans killed that day were on this ship.
Here’s another picture of the USS Arizona sinking.
The USS Shaw, a destroyer, also exploded during the two-hour attack by Japan.
The damaged USS Nevada tried to escape down the channel toward the open sea but became a target during the second wave of 170 Japanese planes, hoping to sink it in the channel and block the narrow entrance to Pearl Harbor. The ship was grounded with 60 killed on board