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Florida’s extreme summer heat didn’t trigger a major state response

It is likely 2023 will become the warmest year on record, globally and in Florida.
Bruna Prado/AP
It is likely 2023 will become the warmest year on record, globally and in Florida.

Florida’s enormously hot and oppressive summer was just one part of what is likely to be the warmest year on record, globally and in the Sunshine State.

June marked the start of Florida’s extreme heat trend, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. July saw its hottest month ever in several Florida cities, including Tallahassee, Tampa and Miami, according to the Florida Climate Center. And August followed suit.

Since then, NOAA has added that this past November was the hottest in the organization's 174-year global climate record.

And while the heat seems top of mind, state leaders did not respond to the extreme weather with the same intensity of a tropical storm or hurricane, said a panel of journalists speaking on this week’s Florida Roundup with host Tom Hudson. The show airs Friday, Dec. 29, at noon.

Mary Ellen Klas with Bloomberg Opinion said while some local governments replied by opening cooling centers and the like, the state was limited in its ability to help.

“This is the kind of thing that there is not much the state can do … except to maybe, you know, ratchet up the talk of climate change, which did not happen,” she said.

Some local governments continue to talk about taking actions. Miami-Dade County, for instance, is debating a heat ordinance. But there is little big-picture discussion happening on the state level, said Scott Maxwell, a columnist with the Orlando Sentinel.

READ MORE: Long-awaited Miami-Dade vote on heat protections for workers gets pushed back to 2024

“The only thing we did not see is sort of a discussion about sorting out the long-term effects,” he said.

Maxwell calls the lack of conversation about climate change “the elephant in the room.” Florida’s climate is only going to get more intense, he said.

“We're only having more, worse storms,” he said. “These things are going to have to be addressed.”

Storms like Hurricane Idalia, which struck Florida’s Big Bend region in late August. Researchers say extreme heat and extremely hot water temperatures led to the storm’s rapid intensification to a Category 4 hurricane in less than 24 hours.

This kind of escalation in extreme weather events will have a spill-over effect on Floridians' pocketbooks, Maxwell said.

Politico reporter Kimberly Leonard said Gov. Ron DeSantis did halt his presidential campaigning to focus on Idalia and the state’s response. And while Floridians in general were positive about his leadership at that time, she said many quickly shifted their focus onto the impact weather was having on a bigger looming problem: the cost of property insurance.

“This is the number one thing I hear about from people who own homes,” she said. “You know, these $800-a-month bills, and people from out of state don't realize how bad it is here.”

A short special Legislative session in November did bring up property insurance. The one related billed that did pass will address a back log of residents wanting to lower insurance premiums by making improvements to their homes.

Earlier this month, state Insurance Commissioner Michael Yaworsky told the Florida Roundup he is seeing signs of the property insurance market stabilizing. Maxwell said that kind of news doesn’t alleviate the massive rate increases homeowners have been seeing this past year.

“It’s kind of like after getting punched in the face 75 times saying ‘I think I'm not going to punch you today.’ Well, that's great, but it already hurt,” he said.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF Public Media, where she oversees a team of reporters covering 13 counties on Florida’s west coast.
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