For US Gulf Coast, a Dire Warning

UN report forecasts severe climate trouble in the coming years
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 3, 2022 1:34 PM CST
For US Gulf Coast, a Dire Warning
In this 2018 photo, Hector Morales sits on a debris pile near his home, which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla. Extreme weather is becoming more common, and that's just one of the warnings for the Gulf of Mexico region in a United Nations report released this week.   (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of the Texas coast in 2017. Then in 2020, ferocious winds from Hurricane Laura destroyed homes across coastal Louisiana. Hurricane Ida hit in 2021, leaving the entire city of New Orleans without power for days. Such extreme weather is becoming more common, and that’s just one of the warnings for the Gulf of Mexico region in a United Nations report released this week, per the AP. The devastating effects of climate change in the region also include rising seas, collapsing fisheries, and toxic tides, even if humanity somehow manages to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era.

“The hurricanes that we get, there’s a higher probability that they can bloom up into major hurricanes,” Louisiana’s state climatologist Barry Keim said, agreeing with the report's details on more dangerous weather. The report details numerous ways in which climate change will affect the gulf. From Texas to Florida, which has the longest coastline of any state, the entire US Gulf coast is under serious threat from rising seas as the planet's polar ice caps melt, the UN report says. In fact, people considering 30-year mortgages are already looking for homes and commercial buildings that pose lower flood risks.

One study cited by the UN says the trend is evident in Florida's Miami-Dade County, where some buyers are shying away from waterfront homes. In Miami Beach, streets already flood on sunny days, and the report says the Tampa Bay area, surrounded by shallow seas, is considered one of the most vulnerable places in the nation for storm surges. Other parts of the Gulf face different problems, the report warns. Tourism and fishing industries depend on thriving habitats off the coasts of Florida and the Yucatan Peninsula, but coral reefs are bleaching due to “warming ocean waters interacting with non-climate stressors.” In Florida alone, the decline of the reefs could translate into $24 billion to $55 billion in economic losses by 2100, the report said.

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Sea level rise poses an existential threat to much of Louisiana, because so much of the Mississippi River delta has been sinking due to human interventions. The loss of sediment from leveeing the river and saltwater intrusion caused by coastal oil and gas development are two big culprits, Keim noted. “South Louisiana is probably the most vulnerable place to climate change in the United States,” Keim said. The report details efforts in the region to adapt to climate change. Miami-Dade, for example, released a strategic sea level rise response plan in 2021 that calls for adapting infrastructure, elevating roads, building on higher ground, and expanding waterfront parks and canals. (Read the full story for more.)

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