Florida’s 1,197-mile (1,926 km) long coast line has long been some of the hottest real estate in the country for retirees and beach lovers. Billions worth of those homes are likely to soon be underwater—and not in the real estate sense.
“$76 billion of Florida property sits on land less than two feet [0.6 meters] above the high tide line,” says a recent report (pdf) co-authored by Climate Central, a group of scientists. “Within less than the term of a 30-year mortgage, sea level rise could cause floods this high to occur once every five years, or even every year, depending on location within the state.”
Climate change is intensifying that risk, says Climate Central. Already higher sea level due to global arming has upped the chance that extreme flooding will hit Key West each year by a factor of three. The odds of a 100-year flood hitting Florida (pdf) by 2030 are now 2.6 times greater thanks to global warming.
The report projects that sea levels will rise 0.6 to 1.3 feet by 2050, increasing the chance of devastating floods and storm surges. And the higher waters rise, the greater the density of homes they affect. As you can see in the chart above, though a one-foot rise affects only about 65,000 homes and about $37 billion in property value, a sea-level increase of three feet would put 300,000 Florida homes—around $156 billion in property value—at risk.
“When considered together with the fact that sea level rise is already accelerating, and is projected to continue accelerating, the implication is that Florida faces a double jeopardy,” says the Climate Central report.
It’s not just homes, of course. A three-foot rise would also threaten 35 public schools, three hospitals, two airports and a power plant, as well as 366 hazardous waste sites, seven sewage plants and three pesticide facilities. Here’s the county-by-county looks at the percentages of land, people and homes that would be affected by a three-foot rise in sea level:
Imagine how that will look as that rises to the four to six feet Florida’s on track to see by century’s end, as Harold Wanless, a scientist at the University of Miami, told the New York Times.
The end of the century is a long way off yet. Since no one knows for sure how much the seas will rise—or how fast—some officials are planning for the more optimistic scenarios and thinking up shorter-term solutions. Charles Tear, a Miami Beach emergency management coordinator, told the Times that local governments are planning to deal with a rise of between five and 15 inches over the next 50 years, less than the sea-level rise many scientists predict. “We’re not comfortable looking at 2100,” another planning official said.
At least Florida is planning. Last year, after sea-level projections for North Carolina sparked fears of rising insurance premiums, the state legislature banned officials from setting coastal policies based on scientific predictions for sea-level rise.