Some Florida cities are getting hotter, but the evolution has more to do with bulldozers and pavement than global warming.
State climatologist David Zierden says Winsberg’s data bolsters his belief, backed up by other Florida studies, that climate changes driven by land use ‘are as important or more important in Florida than what has happened here to date due to greenhouse gases.’ [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
On a regional level, state climatologist David Zierden says, historical records show that southeastern Alabama, Georgia and north and central Florida have not experienced steady warming, but rather relatively warm periods, such as the 1930s through the 1950s, followed by relatively cool periods, such as the 1960s through the 1980s.
Heavily drained or developed areas bucked those trends, however. The most dramatic example in Winsberg’s study is the difference between Belle Glade, in a part of the Everglades drained for sugar production, and undeveloped Everglades City. Since 1950, Belle Glade has seen a 32% increase in its number of dog days, while Everglades City has seen a 3% decrease. The transformation of swampland around Belle Glade to farmland appears to have caused a significant rise in temperatures. “The draining of the Everglades and the upturning of all that black soil has really changed the local climate in that area,” says Zierden.
The idea of local climate change may seem contrarian at a time when scientists and policy-makers focus on global warming and its causes, primarily the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But Florida’s top global warming scientists, including Harold Wanless, chairman of geological sciences at the University of Miami, agree that greenhouse gases don’t seem to be impacting Florida’s temperatures. When it comes to global warming, Wanless says, sea-level rise — caused by warming elsewhere, particularly the Arctic — is the chief threat to Florida. Wanless predicts Florida’s seas will rise three to five feet by century’s end.
As state and national policy-makers work to mitigate damages from the rising seas, Winsberg says he hopes local officials and Floridians will use his data to think more wisely about land-use changes and wetlands drainage.
“People just dread when the hot season begins, and they are so relieved when it’s over,” says Winsberg. “We don’t want to extend the suffering.”
| Links: Read Mort Winsberg’s study on Florida’s dog days.
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