The changing tide of Southwest Florida’s weather and dangerous sea level rise

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When Jeff Weigel moved to the Sunshine State 15 years ago that’s exactly what he expected: sunshine.

“I came from upstate New York, and I owned a restaurant up there. The weather up there in wintertime had snowstorms and extreme snowstorms. I thought that coming to a place like this, the weather would be a little more stable year-round,” explained Weigel.

But that’s not exactly what he’s gotten. In 2017, Hurricane Irma hit, followed by Hurricane Ian five years later.

Weigel also noticed a chain reaction affecting his livelihood as the owner of Sanibel Deli.

“Whether it’s flooding in the Midwest, it affects the price of farm products and the materials you’re getting in,” he added. “You can pay three to four times the amount for a case of a product that you don’t normally plan for.”

“When you start getting all this concrete built in, you create this heat island effect.” Zach Maloch
The Weather Authority Meteorologist

The summer of 2023 was the Earth’s hottest since record-keeping began in 1880—shortly after the Industrial Revolution.

According to the state’s climatologist, David Zierden, it will worsen.

“It’s likely that by the end of 2023, we’ll be 1.5 degrees or more above the pre-industrial average,” stated Zierden. “So before this year, we said we might even exceed that threshold as early as 2030. Well, now, we’re almost there right now this year.”

Sea Level Rise

“The warming Earth is really everything in terms of sea level rise,” said Ben Hamlington, team lead of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. Satellite data shows the rising rate is rapidly accelerating.

“We see this agreement between those models and the data that we have,” Hamlington explained, “so it’s giving us a clearer picture of where we might be headed in the future.”

Click here to view an interactive map about sea level and how it can impact Southwest Florida from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Click here to view the interactive map showing particularly vulnerable areas of Southwest Florida susceptible to sea level rise. The interactive map shows how vulnerable Southwest Florida is to sea level rise.

Hamlington also told WINK News Environmental Reporter Liz Biro 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. Hamlington explained that the Southwest Florida area is a hotspot.

“Some of the highest amounts of future sea level rise were found along the Southwest Florida coast. Hamlington predicted, “The numbers we’re looking at are around maybe an additional foot and a half of sea level rise by 2050.”

Eighteen inches may not seem like much, but it means a higher foundation of sea level upon which everything else will build—tides, flooding, storm surge, all more impactful.

“The number of major hurricanes is on the rise. That’s due to rising sea surface temperatures and more heat and moisture in the atmosphere to feed the storms when the conditions are right,” said Zierden.

The Weather Authority Meteorologist Zach Maloch stated local choices have a direct impact on the record-breaking heat.

“It’s not directly based on just temperatures or human interference in terms of greenhouse gases. It’s also because of our building in Southwest Florida. With that growth comes extra concrete, extra roads, extra houses, all the structures that become absorbers of heat,” he explained. “If you have more land, if you have more trees, then you can have some cooler days, but when you start getting all this concrete built-in, you create this heat island effect. We see it in all our major cities from Chicago to Nashville to Raleigh.”

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