U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member of Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will convene a full committee field hearing titled “Extreme Weather and Coastal Flooding: What is Happening Now, What is the Future Risk, and What Can We Do About It?”on Monday, April 10, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. EDT in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The hearing will examine the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather events. Since 2006, sea level rise in southeast Florida has tripled, averaging about nine millimeters a year. The resulting impacts of coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion, storm surge, and land erosion on Florida’s coastal communities have prompted local governments to act. Following Hurricane Sandy, Palm Beach County restored over 20 acres of beach and sand-dunes to protect shoreside communities from flooding and severe weather. Sen. Nelson will lead a discussion on the economic impacts of extreme weather and coastal flooding to communities, as well as future risks and efforts to address the problems.
- Dr. Ben Kirtman, PhD, Director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences; and Director of the Center for Computational Science, Climate, and Environmental Hazards at the University of Miami
- Dr. Leonard “Len” Berry, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Geosciences at Florida Atlantic University; and Vice President of Government Programs at Coastal Risk Consulting, LLC
- Mr. Carl G. Hedde, CPCU, Senior Vice President; and Head of Risk Accumulation and Munich Reinsurance Company of America
- Dr. Jennifer Jurado, PhD, Chief Resiliency Officer; and Director of Environmental Planning and Community Resilience at Broward County
* Witness list subject to change.
Monday, April 10, 2017, 1:30 p.m. EDT
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation full committee field hearing
Hearing Entitled: “Extreme Weather and Coastal Flooding: What is Happening Now, What is the Future Risk, and What Can We Do About It?”
City of West Palm Beach Commission Chambers
401 Clematis Street West Palm Beach, Florida
Witness testimony and opening statements will be available here.
Good afternoon, and welcome to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation field hearing on seal level rise, extreme weather and coastal flooding.
Today we sit at ground zero of the impacts of climate change in the U.S. And while there are still some who continue to deny climate change is real, South Florida offers proof that it is real and it’s an issue we’re going to be grappling with for decades to come.
As all of us here today know, Florida is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We have over 1,200 miles of coastline - more than any other state in the continental U.S. - and over three quarters of the state’s residents live in coastal counties. Florida is also quite flat. The highest point in the state is Britton Hill, at 345 feet above sea level.
Our communities are already experiencing regular, nuisance flooding during the king tides, as you can see in this photograph taken in Miami Beach in 2015 of a gentleman attempting to cross the street where the floodwater reaches above the curb. It has gotten so extreme that sea creatures are showing up in bizarre places, like this octopus in a parking lot.
The National Academy of Sciences found that 67 percent of nuisance floods in the US are driven by human-caused global sea level rise. In Miami Beach, tide-induced flooding has increased by more than 400 percent in the last decade. In southeast Florida as a whole, sea level rise has tripled since 2006.
The resulting impacts of coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion, storm surge, and land erosion on Florida’s coastal communities have prompted local governments to act.
Here in Palm Beach County, more than 20 acres of beach and sand-dunes had to be restored following Hurricane Sandy to better protect shoreside communities from flooding and severe weather.
Observation such as these—not models, not projections, but the data—tells us that the average global sea level is rising. The National Climate Assessment predicts that sea levels will rise an additional one to four feet this century.
Additionally, rising ocean temperatures have been linked to increasing hurricane intensity, as hurricanes draw more energy from warm water.
In 2016 alone there were 15 weather and climate disaster events that caused over 1 billion dollars in damages each and resulted in 138 deaths across the country. In the first three months of this year there have been five more events with losses exceeding 1 billion dollars. These included a flood, a freeze, and three severe storms. Five is the largest number of billion-dollar events for January to March ever recorded.
Sea level rise will worsen the issue by creating deeper waters near shore, causing higher waves and stronger storm surges during hurricanes. This is especially concerning considering that 79 percent of Florida’s economy is generated in coastal communities, and over 130 billion dollars of beach real estate is at risk.
So, what do we do about it? Well first, we need to be clear about the facts that are presented to the public and fight against political censorship of our climate scientists and their data. If a doctor were barred from using the word “cancer,” he or she can’t do his job, and the same is true with scientists and the work they do to understand and educate the public about the earth’s own fever.
We’ve got to limit greenhouse gas emissions. But we also must create more resilient communities. I would like to take the opportunity to applaud Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties for their work on the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact; and the Cities of Punta Gorda and Satellite Beach for their sea level rise adaptation planning and their efforts to become more resilient communities. I know they will keep up the good work and I hope that others will follow their lead. And I believe that at the federal level, we should be providing more tools to these communities, not less.
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but at the very moment we should be investing in the resilience efforts of communities, the administration has proposed slashing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program.
The administration’s budget has also recommended delaying investment in the next generation of weather satellites at NOAA—the sentinels that tell us when a hurricane is coming. This would cost lives, property, and even more tax dollars in the long-run. So, I’ll fight to ensure we invest in these vital programs.
With that, I’d like to welcome our distinguished panel and thank them for sharing their expertise. We will be hearing from them on the science, economic risks of inaction, and solutions for communities to mitigate sea level rise and coastal flooding.
Dr. Ben Kirtman is the Director of the Center for Computational Science Climate, and Environmental Hazards at the University of Miami, as well as the Director of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Cooperative Institute for Marine & Atmospheric Sciences. Dr. Kirtman is a professor in the Division of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and is the Executive Editor of the scientific journal, Climate Dynamics. His research focuses on predicting climate change in the short and the long term and how much of that change can be attributed to humans.
Dr. Leonard Berry is a Professor Emeritus of Geosciences at Florida Atlantic University and serves as a consultant to Coastal Risk Consulting, a Florida company that assesses climate risk to properties. He has also provided consulting services to communities who wish to relocate power infrastructure to avoid flood risk.
Mr. Carl Hedde (Hehd-ee) is the Senior Vice President and the Head of Risk Accumulation for Munich Reinsurance of America. Mr. Hedde oversees corporate accumulation issues, including the use of catastrophe risk models, client catastrophe risk consulting services, and portfolio management and optimization. Additionally, he manages a group of scientists that provide expertise and research capabilities to Munich Reinsurance of America and its clients.
Dr. Jennifer Jurado (Her-ahdoh) is the Chief Resiliency Officer, as well as the Director of the Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division for Broward County. Dr. Jurado serves as the county's primary representative coordinating with regional and agency partners, and public and private stakeholders to advance resiliency planning and infrastructure investments. Dr. Jurado was on the President's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience (2014-2015) and was recognized in 2013 by the White House as a Champion of Change for her leadership on climate resilience. She was integral in drafting the Southeast Florida Climate Compact.
Thank you all for coming today. I look forward to your testimony.
Dr. Ben Kirtman
Dr. Leonard Berry
Mr. Carl Hedde
Dr. Jennifer Jurado