Is Tampa Bay prepared for sea-level rise?

sea-level rise, storm surge, Tampa Bay area, Melissa Baldwin, Climate change

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On MidPoint we continue our ongoing discussion of the climate crisis, including sea-level rise, and how Tampa Bay is preparing; or maybe it’s more accurate to say how it’s not doing enough preparing.


In a major news story last month, the Washington Post looked at this exact question. It begins: “Tampa Bay’s coming storm. The area is due for a major hurricane, and it is not prepared. If a big one scores a direct hit, the damage would likely surpass Katrina.”

Let’s leave aside for a second the fact that the area is not “due” – the odds of a future hurricane don’t increase if it’s been a long time since the last one. But, whoa, hat a wake-up call that should be. More than 1,200 people died in Hurricane Katrina and parts of New Orleans were changed forever.

Joining us in the studio for the hour is Melissa Baldwin, the founder of Chase Media Services, a communications company that specializes in sustainability and climate change.

We started with a quote from the article:

“Tampa Bay is mesmerizing, with 700 miles of shoreline and some of the finest white sand beaches in the nation. But analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit. A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.”

Also from the WaPo:

“Tampa Bay hasn’t suffered a direct hit from a hurricane as powerful as a category 3 or higher in nearly a century. Tampa has doubled down on a bet that another won’t strike anytime soon, investing billions of dollars in high-rise condominiums along the waterfront and shipping port upgrades and expanding a hospital on an island in the middle of the bay to make it one of the largest in the state.”

They’re referring, at least in part, to a major $3 billion development planned for downtown Tampa, called Water Street Tampa. It’s headed by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and funded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ investment fund and also will get funds from Tampa taxpayers. About 2 years ago WMNF News asked Vinik if it was wise to build at sea-level in downtown Tampa. His response seemed vague and lacked details.

“Fortunately we look at that. And if you look at the details surrounding our whole plan and the logistics behind it, all of our buildings are going to be built at a high enough level to withstand quite a severe storm that may hit. You know, when you look at the sea-level studies I think there is a wide range of opinion about how things are going to change over the next 50 to 100 years. You know, I’m very confident that this area where we are at can be a great district and a terrific part of the Tampa Bay area for a long, long time to come.”

When pressed about how much storm surge his proposed development could endure, Vinik said he did not know.

The WaPo continued, “Once-sleepy St. Petersburg has gradually followed suit, adorning its downtown coast with high-rise condominiums, new shops and hotels.” It pointed out that Pinellas County could be sliced in half by a wave of water.

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What do we know about the rate of sea-level rise in Tampa Bay? According to the WaPo article, it had been

“about an inch per decade. But in the early 1990s, scientists say, it accelerated to several inches above normal, so much that recent projections have the bay rising between six inches and more than two feet by the middle of the century and up to nearly seven feet when it ends. On top of that, natural settling is causing land to slowly sink.”

The article continues:

“State leaders could be part of the reason. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly discouraged employees from using the words “climate change” in official communications. Last month, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved bills allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of evolution and global warming.”

We played WMNF News’ interview with Adam Putnam. It was the day he announced he was running for governor, in May in Bartow, Florida — in Polk County.

WMNF: If you’re Florida Governor, what do you think the Florida Governor should do about reducing carbon dioxide emissions?

Putnam: “Well, certainly any policy of that size should be federal in nature, so that we don’t put Florida jobs at risk vis a vis other states and other countries. I’m focused on making the launchpad for the American dream. We can be the magnet for talent from all over, for people to raise their families here, start their businesses here and grow their businesses here. And that is the focus that any governor should make their number one priority.”

WMNF: So if the federal government does nothing, you’re OK with that?

Putnam: “Let’s see what the federal government does.”

Back to the Washington Post article:

“The fictitious Phoenix hurricane scenario projects that wind damage would destroy nearly half a million homes and businesses. About 2 million residents would require medical treatment, and the estimated death toll, more than 2,000, would top the number of people who perished from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana & Mississippi.”

On the show we looked at solutions at every government level – local, regional and federal. For example, a fee & dividend scheme.

At the beginning of the show, we played a comment left by a listener after our last show. That program was about fracking and election integrity and about transit in Hillsborough County. This listener took issue with a proposal by a transit advocate to remove I-275 from Malfunction Junction in Tampa, northward and replace it with a multi-transit boulevard.


  • Marcia Biggs

    Great show! I would like to invite Melissa and WMNF listeners to continue this conversation this Weds August 9 at the monthly meeting of Tampa Bay Sierra Club. Our guest speaker will be Colin Rice from the Climate Reality Project, which was founded by Al Gore. We’ll be discussing local threats and actions that should be taken to protect Tampa Bay, which after Miami is predicted to be the No. 2 location in the US to be affected by sea level rise. Join us at 6:30 with program starting at 7 pm at Seminole Heights Public Library.

  • Steve Case

    Seven feet by the end of the century. Wow, that comes to over 25 mm/yr for the next 83 years. Current rates of sea level rise at the St Petersburg tide gauge
    is about 3.8 mm/yr for the last 30 years. When is this run-up to over 25 mm/year going to begin to happen?

  • Chris Steiner

    On MidPoint yesterday, August 7, 2017 (, my call was taken at time index 33:57 (36:30 on the video at and was cut off at 35:57 (38:30 on the video at, just as I was about to debate the claim then made by host, Seán Kinane, who didn’t gave me a chance to respond. Just after cutting short my call, Kinane said, “So I’m going to, I’m going to just cut you off right there just to say that, I mean, the amount of those fluorinated gases that are produced by humans every year is microscopic compared the amount of CO2 so that’s probably why. Yes, an individual molecule of that gas has a greater potential just as methane does, but we produce so much more CO2 so I think that’s why that anomaly you’re talking about is, um, that’s why it’s not mentioned. It’s not, it just doesn’t contribute as much overall as carbon dioxide which contributes quite a bit.” Guest, Melissa Baldwin, then said a few things about which I would have liked to have questioned including the ambiguous statement, “Peer-reviewed evidence shows you cannot find peer-reviewed evidence that shows the points that you were making about.” Because it’s a logical fallacy that, without extraordinary evidence, one cannot prove a negative, that’s the non-existence of aforesaid peer-reviewed evidence, her efforts would be better served directing her dispute not towards me, but inquiring as to the source of EPA’s data. Moments later Baldwin said, “And I would say that if you want to continue to deny this, I think that you should be willing to tell your grandchildren that, be willing to have it written on your gravestone so that they know when they, when you’re gone, that you stood in the way of progress.” Towards whom this remark is directed I’m not sure, but certainly not to myself who, unlike Kinane, was hoping engage in discourse as I stayed on the line, trying to interject while my call was muted for the following eight minutes as was recorded on my end by the phone application, Record My Call. Instead of discourse the audience received simple, if not false, dictates. Regarding the carbon fee-in-dividend proposed by Baldwin, I would like to have asked how it would be gauged? Where’s the data showing measurements for all greenhouse gases of the planet’s underwater sea vents and volcanoes as well as above-ground vents and volcanoes? To carry credibility, wouldn’t a carbon fee-in dividend need to bear some relationship to such data? To answer Kinane’s aforesaid claim, I was starting to state — also recorded on my end — the last two paragraphs of what follows which should build a common cause among all, clarifying the urgency to dispense with quibbling by labels like, “deniers,” and, “carbonazis,” alike:

    If urgent action to stop climate change is needed, why not start with what [alleged] greenhouse gases the EPA claims, compared to CO2, have a greater impact such as water vapor. are more persistent, and those that are indeed toxic (nitrous oxide, methane, and especially fluorinated gases which are the most deadly and only class that’s exclusively synthetic)?
    Greenhouse gases warm the Earth by absorbing energy and slowing the rate at which the energy escapes to space; they act like a blanket insulating the Earth. Different greenhouse gases can have different effects on the Earth’s warming. Two key ways in which these gases differ from each other are their ability to absorb energy (their “radiative efficiency”), and how long they stay in the atmosphere (also known as their “lifetime”).

    The Global Warming Potential (GWP) was developed to allow comparisons of the global warming impacts of different gases. Specifically, it is a measure of how much energy the emissions of one ton of a gas will absorb over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of one ton of carbon dioxide. The larger the GWP, the more that a given gas warms the Earth compared to carbon dioxide over that time period. The time period usually used for GWPs is 100 years. GWPs provide a common unit of measure, which allows analysts to add up emissions estimates of different gases (e.g., to compile a national greenhouse gas inventory), and allows policy-makers to compare emissions-reductions opportunities across sectors and gases.

    • Carbon dioxide (CO2), by definition, has a GWP of 1 regardless of the time period used, because it is the gas being used as the reference. Carbon dioxide remains in the climate system for a very long time: carbon dioxide emissions cause increases in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide that will last thousands of years.
    • Methane (CH4) is estimated to have a GWP of 28-36 over 100 years (Learn why EPA’s U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks uses a different value.). CH4 emitted today lasts about a decade on average, which is much less time than CO2. But CH4 also absorbs much more energy than CO2. The net effect of the shorter lifetime and higher energy absorption is reflected in the GWP. The methane GWP also accounts for some indirect effects, such as the fact that methane is a precursor to ozone, and ozone is itself a greenhouse gas.
    • Nitrous Oxide (N2O) has a GWP 265-298 times that of CO2 for a 100-year timescale. N2O emitted today remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years, on average.
    • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) are sometimes called high-GWP gases because, for a given amount of mass, they trap substantially more heat than CO2. ►(The GWPs for these gases can be in the thousands or tens of thousands.)◄”

    – = – = – = –

    According to, in 2014 CO2 accounts for 82% of greenhouse gas emissions (down 1% from EPA’s 2013 statistics) and fluorinated gases for 3% (the same as EPA’s 2013 statistics). And:
    “Fluorinated gases : Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride are ►synthetic◄, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for stratospheric ozone-depleting substances (e.g., chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and halons). ►These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”).◄”

    – = – = – = –

    CO2’s 82% ÷ fluorinated gases’ 3% = 27%
    27% is far less than, “thousands or tens of thousands.”
    Who other than, “big phosphate,” would disagree the priority is to start by ending phosphate industry’s currently unmonitored — thus unregulated by either EPA or Florida Department of Environmental Protection — emissions of deadly fluorinated gases into our atmosphere and fluorinated, fluoridated, and other deadly waste discharge into our waterways? Why would anyone be so concerned about CO2, a necessary flora nutrient that, unlike fluorinated gases, doesn’t kill?

  • FalconMoose

    GW is a tax hoax.