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Climate change makes Florida ‘rain-bombs’ more common


If you live in Florida, you never suffer from an irony deficiency. Case in point: Flood managers from across the nation gathered in South Florida last week for a conference — only to run into the region’s worst flooding in yeeeeeeeeears.

(Hey, do you think we can get the nation’s lottery managers to meet at my house? Just asking.)

We’re accustomed to a little rain here in Florida. We call ourselves the Sunshine State, but that’s a lie we made up to fool the tourists.

Most of our cities get more annual rainfall than famously drizzly Seattle. Four show up on the top 10 list of the rainiest cities in America: Pensacola, West Palm Beach, Miami, and Tallahassee.

But what hit Fort Lauderdale last week was the kind of storm that would make Noah start rounding up animals: nearly 26 inches in 24 hours.

My grandmother used to talk about storms so heavy she called them “toad-frog stranglers.” I think this one was so big it strangled a whole army of amphibians.

Some news stories referred to it as a “rain-bomb,” which sounds fairly accurate for the amount of damage it caused. The airport shut down. Schools closed, and scores of people abandoned their cars and fled their waterlogged homes.

“If the numbers hold up, Wednesday’s storm will go down in the history books,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. “The previous record for 24-hour rainfall for Fort Lauderdale was 14.59 inches, set in 1979.”

Bear in mind that that record-shattering rainfall hit right after three days of storms that deposited more than 31 inches of downpour in Broward County’s drainage system. Bear in mind, too, that rampant development has covered much of the once-porous landscape with concrete, making the flooding worse.

But wait, we’re not done!

On Sunday, so much rain fell on West Palm Beach in 24 hours that it broke a record set in 1897. The monsoon that hit there included “tropical-storm-force gusts, sprinkles of ice, and booming thunder,” thanks to “an explosive 35,069 lightning events,” The Palm Beach Post reported.

The aftermath of such a deluge is obvious. Regional waterways are now so full of pollution they’re filthier than a gas station toilet. Meanwhile, so much standing water seems likely to breed a bumper crop of disease-bearing mosquitoes.

After reading all these soggy stories, I called up David Zierden, who serves as our state climatologist (Yes, we really have one! Don’t tell the politicians!)

As I suspected, he said those heavy rainstorms are showing us just one aspect of the alterations that climate change has brought to our world.

“A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture to feed these heavy rainfall events,” he told me.

Between the increasingly heavy storms that send rivers cascading down the streets and the rising sea level pushing up into the storm drains, coastal Florida towns are hip-deep in big trouble and sinking fast.

Zierden is far from the only climate expert singing this rain song.

“The literature is very clear that those [storms] are increasing in intensity, frequency, and sometimes also duration,” Andreas Prein, a project scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told the Miami Herald. “We see this in observational records, in our modeling analysis, and we understand this well theoretically.”

Toward the end of our phone call, Zierden added a chilling postscript for anyone who knows what the Florida weather calendar looks like between May 1 and October 1:

“We’re not even into the rainy season yet.”

What if we were evacuating?

Irony showers down on us in Florida even more heavily than storms do.

For example, one of the people who got caught unprepared by last week’s flooding was Jennifer Jurado, Broward County’s own chief resilience officer.

“Resilience,” by the way, is government-speak for “trying to cope with the effects of climate change.”

“I was supposed to be flying to a climate change conference in New Hampshire,” she told me. “Rather than stop by home, I thought I would go straight to the airport. But I couldn’t make it very far at all.”

She managed to drive through and around flooded areas, and at last, her car made it onto the elevated Interstate 95. That’s when she said to herself, “Well, I’ve made it.”

On the plus side, she was now higher than the flooded local streets clogged with abandoned cars and trucks. On the minus side, lots of other motorists had joined her on the interstate, trying to get somewhere despite the blinding rainfall.

“I did 25 mph all the way home,” she said. “I live in Hollywood, and I finally made it to the exit ramp. But then it turned out that the exit ramp was flooded.”

Her car conked out just short of her destination. It’s in the shop now, she said. Because there are so many other home and auto claims from last week, an insurance adjuster can’t get to the garage to give her an estimate on the damage until the end of the month.

Broward County is pretty far along with building a larger stormwater system to handle the increased flooding of this modern era. But no pipes or pumps they’re building now are large enough to handle the runoff from getting 26 inches of rain in 24 hours. Still, it could have been worse.

“One of the many lessons here,” Jurado said, “is that it’s one thing to get stranded when you’re trying to get home. But what if this happened while we’re all trying to evacuate ahead of a hurricane?”

Hurricane season, in case you don’t know, starts June 1st.

Bust out the white waders!

While the rainy season and hurricane season are still a little ways away, we’ve already started campaign season (or, as my mom always referred to it, “the silly season”).

Florida Gov. Ron “Buy My Book So I Can Avoid Going Home” DeSantis attracted a lot of criticism last week for not showing up in Fort Lauderdale during the devastating disaster. I was sorry to see this, primarily because it hurts my campaign to convince everyone to call him “Gov. DeSastrous.”

One Sun-Sentinel editor wrote a column headlined, “Where was DeSantis when Broward needed him?”

“Jeb Bush would have stood in the middle of State Road 84, right in front of Lester’s Diner, helping a motorist get out of her stranded Subaru,” columnist Steve Bousquet wrote. So where was DeSantis? “Up in Akron, of all places, giving another ’ain’t-I-great’ speech to hundreds of Republicans.”

The problem with expecting our pudding-fingered chief executive to grab hold of the steering wheel of state to rescue folks from the floodwaters is that it requires something he does not possess. He lacks the necessary level of engagement with actual people, rather than adoring campaign backers.

This perpetual political lightweight would have to embrace something more substantive than threatening to build a state prison next to Disney World. Or comments about how he’s stopped drinking Bud Lite and now prefers Guinness (apparently unaware of that beermaker’s politics).

He also might be avoiding the floodwaters because he’s shy about showing up again in those shiny white waders his wife picked out for him to wear last year in Arcadia.

No, he’s far more comfortable standing in front of a supportive crowd ranting about “woke” this and “woke” that. You notice he never bothers to explain what he means by that term. Honestly, whenever he starts talking about “woke,” it always reminds me of Groucho Marx singing, “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

These floods expose the flaw in his preferred method of dealing with Florida’s climate change fight: Talk about “resilience,” spend millions on pumps and pipes to help the coastal areas cope with sea level rise, and ignore all the other symptoms, such as rising temperatures and heavier rainfall.

Meanwhile, he (and other Florida politicians) actively defend the cause of our watery woes: the fossil fuel industry whose emissions are messing up our atmosphere.

The way our chief executive talks about the oil and gas industry, he sounds like he’s itching to prove his manhood by sucking all the exhaust fumes straight from a Hummer’s tailpipe.

Glug glug glug goes your pocketbook

Even if you love the governor the way Lynyrd Skynyrd said Birmingham loved George Wallace, even if you scoff at all this talk about how climate change is wrecking Florida, you should care about this.

Why? Because all this increased flooding is draining your pocketbook. Can you hear it? It’s going “glug glug glug…”

Florida homeowners were already paying three times the national average for property insurance before Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole blasted through the state last year.

Lots of flooding followed those hurricanes, some of it hitting places far from the coast. Some houses remain flooded six months later. Lots of insurance claims filed over that flooding wound up being denied because the policies covered wind but not water damage.

As a result, the Legislature voted back in December to require the 1.2 million customers of the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, to buy flood insurance. — the first mandate of its kind in the country.

It doesn’t matter whether you live in a flood zone or not. The law says you will have to spend extra to get a policy to protect your property against the kind of thing that happened in Fort Lauderdale last week.

“There’s no safe spot in Florida when it comes to flooding,” a plain-talking spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute told WTSP-TV. “We could have storms like that in any part of Florida at any time of year.”

Incidentally, most flood insurance policies currently providing coverage in Florida are underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program. And who runs the National Flood Insurance Program? The governor’s greatest nemesis: the federal government. Specifically, it’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency., aka “The People Who Bring in Those Ugly Trailers After the Hurricane.”

So guess who’s paying for settling all those flood claims filed by people in Florida: You, the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, a gracious plenty of insurance companies discovered they were unable to handle all these claims. They reacted like an expensive tropical fish in a stagnant aquarium — they went belly up.

So many of those companies have failed to pay claims that the state has slapped a 1 percent surcharge on all the other property insurance policies to cover the cost of those unpaid claims. That, of course, pushes those too-high bills just a little higher.

The governor and Legislature’s answer to the state’s daunting insurance crisis? Make it harder and more expensive for you and me to sue the insurance companies.

Even a certain wealthy club owner in Palm Beach blasted this as an industry bailout. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left to do the other kind of bailing out, one bucket at a time.

Fear not, though, citizens who insure with Citizens! I have a common-sense solution for all this increased flooding caused by alterations in our climate.

Put up your brolly!

When you hear the first drops of rain pitter-pattering on your roof, what do you reach for?

I, personally, grab a raincoat. But a lot of people reach for an umbrella. Or, if you’re sultry pop star Rihanna, an “umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay.”

Whether it’s a little collapsible brolly or a full-size Patrick McNee-style bumbershoot, this expanding mechanism of metal and fabric will provide you with portable protection against precipitation.

Clearly, then, what we in Florida need to do is build a series of ginormous umbrellas all over the place. Then, when those rain bombs go off, government employees — maybe even the governor’s revived Florida stormtroopers! — can race around and raise the shields.

The cascade of water from the latest toad-frog strangler will simply slide off the sides and into the various canals, creeks, rivers, and other waterways scattered around the state. That way, we could preserve the roadways and airports for continued dry-land use.

What? You think a system of big umbrellas to cover South Florida sounds silly?

I think it makes just as much sense as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to spend billions of dollars building six miles of walls up to 13 feet high around the South Florida coast to protect it from rising sea levels.

You know what strikes me as silly? That our elected leaders go grasping for these incredibly expensive engineering solutions to climate change rather than taking any steps to cut back on fossil fuels.

Despite the growing popularity of solar power and electric vehicles, they protect the old polluters who have been aiding their campaigns. They’d rather do that than help the people who are suffering.

There’s a word for that. As Alanis Morrisette would say, it’s like a rain bomb on your wedding day.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. 

Florida Phoenix, Craig Pittman, Rain-Bombs, Flooding, Climate Change, National Center for Atmospheric Research


3 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • MamaMia

    Lordy, lordy, I hope Ron De Santis never gets elected POTUS! He has done nothing to help the property insurance situation. Who cares if he no longer drinks Bud Light beer? That's just stupidity, more for me.....I have no beef against Guinness, except I don't like it's taste. It tastes like beer and coffee mixed, to me. Long live Anheuser Busch! I love Bud Light, and I like Natty Daddy Big Ones 8 per cent alcohol, 25 oz. Yes, that is my choice to drink. I like draft beer too......

    Friday, April 21, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I have been around these parts quite awhile, but I never heard of rain-bombs? I have heard of it raining frogs and catfish though.

    Friday, April 21, 2023 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Newsflash people, Ron DeSantis plans on cutting social security and wants people to work until age 70, to apply for SS. From the news, what a loser!

    Friday, April 21, 2023 Report this