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The heat is on in Florida as climate change lands us all in hot water

We need to treat heat waves the way we treat hurricanes if we want to survive


As a collector of clever Florida signs, I could not decide which one was a better commentary.

One, circulated by WINK-TV, showed a sidewalk chalkboard announcement: “The heat index is between OMG and WTF.”

The other, on a sign outside the Red Barn Bar in Sarasota, made the rounds on social media: “Only good thing about Florida heat is no one is waiting in your backseat to kill you.”

WINK-TV sign

In case you hadn’t heard, Florida — and the rest of the world — suffered under a heat wave last week, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

July 4th marked the hottest day in human history. It was so hot I’m surprised our neighbors’ fireworks didn’t explode on their own. I keep playing Tom Petty’s “105 Degrees” on repeat.

How hot has it been? So hot that the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office asked everyone to stop doing anything illegal: “Due to the extreme heat, we are asking anyone thinking of conducting criminal activity to hold off. It is straight up H-O-T and humid.”

Now, it’s about to warm up even worse.

“Nearly 50 million Americans are set to face triple-digit temperatures this week amid a sprawling dome of heat that will engulf most of the southern United States,” the Washington Post reported.

Ah, but we folks in Florida can always cool off by splashing around at the beach, right?

Nope! Stay up above the wrack line, or you’ll be toasting your tootsies.

“Sea ‘surface’ temps in the Florida Keys are 92-95 degrees. That’s boiling for them! More typically, it would be in the upper 80s,” Jeff Berardelli, WFLA-TV’s chief meteorologist, tweeted this week.

Sheesh, if that water was any warmer, your catch of the day would come out of the sea pre-cooked. All you’d need would be a little lemon juice.

I called Miami meteorologist John Morales about how we’re all in a lot of hot water right now. He mentioned a few other factors but then pointed the finger straight at climate change as the underlying cause. The emissions from the fossil fuels we burn in our power plants and our cars began baking our world during the Industrial Revolution and continue to today.

John Morales via Linkedin

“The oceans have absorbed a lot of that heat,” he said. A hotter Atlantic “has many people worried that hurricane season is going to be a lot busier than expected.”

After all, the heat in the oceans fuels our tropical storms. Our alteration of the climate is already making them more intense, as we saw with both Hurricanes Michael (2018)and Ian (2022).

You may have noticed that we haven’t heard much about this crisis from anyone in state government. That’s what results when you have 13 years of governors who don’t want to discuss climate change, much less do anything to stop it.

We have repeatedly elected these ostrich imitators who would rather stick their heads in the (increasingly warm) sand than offend campaign contributors by tackling the problem.

Now comes news from Bloomberg that our current Denier-in-Chief quietly rejected $377 million in energy efficiency funds offered by the feds. Better to stay ideologically pure and keep using energy-gobbling appliances than do something to help Floridians!

As a T-shirt I once saw put it, “It’s not the heat. It’s the stupidity.”

We’re all a hot mess

We’re not alone in this hot mess. Nearly half of the rest of the world’s waterways are impersonating a bowl of soup right now.

“The surface temperatures of about 40 percent of the global ocean are already high enough to meet the criteria for a marine heatwave — a period of persistent anomalously warm ocean temperatures,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported at the end of June.

NOAA, I should mention, oversees the National Hurricane Center, so it’s pretty important for Florida, the state that’s been hit by more hurricanes than any other.

NOAA is also part of the Department of Commerce, which made the news recently. It’s one of four federal agencies that Gov. Ron “Why Are My Poll Numbers Sinking Lower Than Florida Teacher Salaries?” DeSantis just called for abolishing.

That’s his M.O. If he doesn’t like the message, he doesn’t want to hear it.

He’s not alone. Some people just don’t want to hear about what we’ve done to our atmosphere.

Angie Lassman via her website

On a recent episode of the “Today” show, Morales’ NBC colleague Angie Lassman cited a 2022 U.N. report about coping with our rising temperatures. The report, she said, predicted that in less than 50 years, “up to one-third of the global population will start experiencing life-threatening heat conditions.”

She was promptly mocked on Fox News, the TV network that recently admitted in court to repeatedly lying to its viewers.

The Fox story referred to the “widely denounced report” without ever saying why anyone outside the oil and coal industries would denounce it. The Tommy Flanagans of broadcasting also claimed that it was “just another study in a long string of catastrophic climate change warnings and calls to action from the U.N.”

Multiple scientific studies that reach the same conclusion sound convincing, not the opposite. But apparently, that disdainful tone is what the Foxy Fakers think their viewers (or advertisers) want to hear. Yeah, that’s it! That’s the ticket!

It could have been worse. The Associated Press just reported that meteorologists who talk about climate change have been subjected to complaints and harassment from irate anti-science nimrods. One meteorologist in Iowa was hounded off the air.

Yeah, that’ll stop the climate from changing. Smart move, Cletus.

Paging the Amazing Criswell!

Maybe these anti-science folks would be less skeptical of climate change if some soothsayer like Nostradamus, Walter Mercado, or The Amazing Criswell had predicted it.

They’d see his message in a supermarket tabloid and heed his mystical warning about warming, meanwhile nodding and saying, “That old boy knew what was what!”

You know who did forecast that this hotness was coming? Scientists.

Nine years ago, in 2014, a team of 60 scientists released the Third National Climate Assessment, which predicted with remarkable accuracy the world we’re living in now.

They predicted more intense storms, heavier rainfall, and increased flooding, all of which we saw with Ian.

Boats sit grounded in a woodland area and along the side of the road after being pushed by rising water from Hurricane Ian near Fort Myers Beach on Sept. 29, 2022, in San Carlos Island. The hurricane brought high winds, storm surges, and rain to the area, causing severe damage. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“As a result, insurance costs will increase, and people will move away from vulnerable areas,” the report said.

Sure enough, our rates are skyrocketing right now. Some insurers are fleeing the state because they can’t handle the storms. The latest to head for the exit: Farmers, bum-de-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum! Apparently they’ve seen a thing or two and don’t want to see it again.

Meanwhile, some coastal residents who survived Ian’s wrath are being forced to move inland. This is happening even as developers build more expensive homes in the exact spot that was destroyed last time.

The 2014 report also warned that Florida would likely see mosquitoes carrying malaria and other fevers. Sarasota County found six malaria cases recently, prompting a statewide alert for that disease.

The scientists said we’d see increases in harmful algae blooms, which are stimulated by warmer weather. Sure enough, we’re seeing toxic blue-green algae covering most of Lake Okeechobee and showing up in waterways all over Lee County, not to mention lakes in Polk County and along the Peace River.

The report had a particularly pointed message for low-lying, flood-prone Florida. What it lacked was a receptive audience.

Our chief executive at the time was Rick “I Wear My Navy Hat to Remember How I Repeatedly Gouged My Shipmates While Selling Them Sodas” Scott.

When he became governor, he could have continued the programs launched by his predecessor, Charlie “the Man with the Fan” Crist. Crist promoted solar power and mandated that statewide building codes seek a 15 percent energy-efficiency increase. He also persuaded the Legislature to pass a bill launching a cap-and-trade system to cut emissions.

But Scott junked all of that. In his time as governor, our future senator wavered between outright climate skepticism and repeatedly saying, “I’m not a scientist” as if that was an answer.

Even when a bunch of actual scientists met with Scott to try to win him over, he treated them the way you might a Jehovah’s Witness team at your door. He slid out without making any commitment to act.

And now here we are, living out the predictions he didn’t want to hear.

The Monticello Meltdown

This is not the hottest that Florida has ever been.

On June 29, 1931, the thermometers in Monticello, a town about 25 miles from Tallahassee, hit 109 degrees, a record that still stands. That record-breaking mark was part of a near-nationwide heat wave that killed 766 people.

Be glad you missed the Monticello Meltdown because, as the Florida History Network points out, “You probably wouldn’t have had air conditioning in your home, and definitely not your car if you lived in Florida back then.”

What’s been happening lately is not an isolated event like Monticello’s hot flash. Our current bout of sweltermania is part of an ongoing trend. Every month this year has been 3 to 5 degrees above normal, according to the Florida Climate Center.

But you may not know that. This is especially true for the 900 new people who arrive in Florida every day. For instance, since 1970, Miami-Dade County has had an average increase of days above 90°F from 84 a year to 133 days per year. If you just arrived in Hialeah or Coconut Grove this year, you might not realize that.

It doesn’t help that we’re in a period when the news cycle has sped up even as staffing of news operations has fallen way off. That’s why, instead of climate coverage, you’re more likely to see a think piece about the new “Barbie” movie, or something on that funny video on the swimming pool iguana.

Meanwhile, a few extremely well-heeled parties with names like “BP” are doing their best to muddy the discussion. It’s enough to leave you with an exhaustion that’s been dubbed “apocalypse fatigue.”

But don’t feel down. I can point you to a place that’s at least trying to handle this the right way.

America’s hotspot

Miami is No. 1 at a lot of things. It’s the place with the worst hotel service in the nation. And it boasts the most OnlyFans accounts in the U.S. It has the country’s least affordable housing, and it’s become a hotspot for inflation.

It was also the first city in the nation to appoint a “chief heat officer.” No, that has nothing to do with a certain basketball team.

Instead, it’s about survival.

“We know extreme heat does not impact people equally — poorer communities and Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of the public health impacts,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said when creating the post in 2021. A chief heat officer will “coordinate our efforts to protect people from heat and save lives.”

Jane Gilbert via LinkedIn

The job went to Jane Gilbert, who grew up in the Northeast but moved to Miami a quarter-century ago after falling in love with the culture and the ocean.

When she first started, she told me this week, “some people said, ‘Oh, it’s always been hot here. We’ve learned how to handle it. It’s no big deal.”

The people saying that “were working in an air-conditioned office and living in an air-conditioned home,” she said. “Not everybody experiences Florida that way.”

Around 300,000 people in Miami-Dade work outdoors, she pointed out. They’re in construction jobs, repairing roofs, fixing phone lines, or they’re farmworkers. They can’t just adjust a thermostat. And they have no legal protections.

As the Miami Herald reported last month, in Tallahassee a “bipartisan push to simply suggest that employers meet the lowest bar of heat safety standards (with no consequences for not doing so) has failed three years in a row.”

One of Gilbert’s first initiatives was studying ZIP codes and demographics to see what parts of the city were most vulnerable. She zeroed in on places with “high poverty, high urban heat islands, a high percentage of outdoor workers, and a high number of children.”

She also found that the city declared a heat advisory when the heat index hit 108 and a heat warning when it reached 113, thresholds that were seldom achieved. Now a pilot project is using a different standard: 105 degrees calls for a heat advisory, while 110 rates a heat warning.

“Over the past 14 years, we’ve hit 105 only an average of six times a year,” she said. “Now, we’ve already hit it nine times this year, and we’re only to July.”

The key to dealing with such scorching conditions, she said, was declaring a “heat season” as if it were the annual hurricane season.

From May to October, there are billboards, fliers, and radio spots in English, Spanish, and Creole. They feature tips on coping, such as staying hydrated and going to “cool centers” such as libraries or shady parks.

Meanwhile, she said, they’re training “disaster volunteers” to check on people and look for signs of heat stroke and training emergency responders in spotting the signs of chronic heat exposure. The next steps include finding ways to cool down hot neighborhoods and planting more trees to create more shade.

Every Florida city needs a program like this one. Maybe we can encourage DeSantis to name himself our statewide heat czar and deputize assistant czars who’d pose for photos looking all sweaty and hot, like the guys in his recent anti-LGBTQ ad.

Until that happens, you’re on your own to cope with the results of climate change. At least there won’t be any killers hiding in your backseat. There’s no need to hide. That deadly heat is all around you.

Heat Stroke, Heat Index, Craig Pittman, Florida, Florida Phoenix, Climate Change, Heat Season