'Devastation': Sea level rise, hurricane hit makes Tampa Bay most vulnerable

A direct hit from a major hurricane, in addition to sea level rise, could result in damage worse than Hurricane Katrina in Tampa Bay.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- With all the beauty we get to enjoy across Tampa Bay, it’s easy to forget about the risks -- but the climate is changing, the sea level is rising and our home is increasingly more vulnerable if a major hurricane were to hit.

“There would be a lot of devastation,” said Brady Smith, the principal planner at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

Smith was part of a team that created a Category 5 hurricane simulation to show what would happen in a worst-case scenario.

See it here:

Project Phoenix, the Tampa Bay catastrophic plan by webdept10 on Scribd

“In this spot here in front of the convention center, water would be over 30 feet above my head,” he said. “I would need to be wearing scuba gear to be in this location.”

They found it would be worse than Hurricane Katrina, resulting in 2,000 people dead, 2 million injured and almost 500,000 homes and businesses destroyed. Although the likelihood isn't all that great, officials wished to map out what could happen.

“It's a very low probability event that we're talking about here,” Smith said.

Watch: Scenario: Project Phoenix, The Tampa Bay Catastrophic Plan video

That’s in part because Tampa Bay is protected in its location. For almost 100 years, the bay area has dodged hurricanes that have devastated other parts of Florida. The last time a Category 3 hurricane hit the area was 1921.

“The last time we did have a hurricane we didn't have nearly as much development along our shoreline,” said Peter Clark, the president of Tampa Bay Watch.

Now with a booming downtown St. Petersburg and a highly developed downtown Tampa, we have much more to lose.

And the danger is greater as temperatures rise.

More: Tampa Bay most vulnerable to damage, flooding with major hurricane

Scientists predict if we surpass the Paris Climate agreement's mark of 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, we can expect more intense hurricanes to develop.

A study recently found that even if we were to suddenly stop burning fossil fuels, we would still reach that dreaded temperature of 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. If we continue to release emissions, which is what we're likely to do, we could reach 3 degrees Celsius.

The warmer climate has already led to sea level rise in the Tampa Bay. As the water creeps closer, we see storms wreak havoc.

More: Tampa Bay one of the top most vulnerable areas to sea level rise, scientists say

Angie Rivera was hit twice last summer in Clearwater. First, Tropical Storm Colin flooded her mobile home. Three months later, rains from Hurricane Hermine threatened to destroy what they had just rebuilt.

“We can be looking at a lot of hard work all over again,” Rivera said. “I'm just going to try to get out of here and not cry until tomorrow morning when I come back to see the place.”

Some don't have the means to go anywhere else others don't want to, while experts are warning us against ignoring the threat.

Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the 10 News app now.

Have a news tip? Email desk@wtsp.com, or visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment