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Climate Forecast Conference in Sarasota will focus on climate change impact on the Gulf Coast region

Hurricanes, red tide and sea level rise affect the lives of all Floridians.

Scientists at the Climate Adaptation Center in Sarasota are studying how climate change could impact our region in the years to come.

On Friday Nov.19, the center will host its first Florida Climate Forecast Conference.

WUSF's Cathy Carter recently got a preview of the event with the center's CEO, Bob Bunting.

Why is climate forecasting important?

I would say since the 1980s, the National Center for Atmospheric Research began predicting the climate that we now have. So, 30 years ago, we predicted a climate change. And today, it's our weather. So, I am very confident at this point that the climate change that we're talking about, is going to accelerate in the decades ahead. And if we don't start acting now, to prevent the worst impacts of the warming that we're going to have, it's going to affect our way of life in Florida, eventually, we're going to have to move out because some of the things that are happening on climate warming are not reversible, no matter what we do, and even if we stopped putting carbon in the air today, we have 100 years of climate warming ahead of us.

One thing you just said there is that if climate change trends continue here in Florida, we're going to have to eventually move out.

Well, you know, one of the things that is part of climate warming is the rising of sea levels. Right here in Sarasota since 1950, you might be surprised to know that we've had nine inches of sea level rise. One of the things that's happened since 1990, is that the rate of climate warming has doubled. And since then, we've noticed all these climate disruptions like all of the ones that we've seen this year with all the tremendous number of hurricanes, for example. And these mega storms that are hitting different parts of the world. We're seeing the Earth begin to destabilize, nature is destabilizing under the onslaught of co2 emissions that are from mankind. There's absolutely no doubt about this anymore.

There are a lot of topics on the agenda for the conference, such as how dangerous hurricanes will become and whether red tide will become our new normal. One of the things you'll also be doing is your first ever forecast into what our climate could look like in 2030 and beyond. How are you able to do determine that?

We have billions and billions of measurements that we take every day from satellites, from ground stations, under the sea over the sea, in the air, so combine that with supercomputing and we're now able to predict the weather pretty well. And as the weather has become more and more predictable, the same trend is going on in climate science, where we can run these climate models forwards and backwards. And finally, we have this new thing called attribution science where we can run the climate models and take the co2 out of them and see what happens in the future.

The conference will also include several leaders from the government sector. How can cities adapt to climate change and mitigate its impact?

Well, specifically for Sarasota County let's say, we need to elevate this issue. There should be a very, very high-level climate official, a climate czar if you will, because it's going to be the most costly and biggest problem we have to deal with in the next 50 years. And governments are not always good about looking that far into the future. But if we do, we'll save a lot of money, because we're going to spend the money anyway, after a disaster happens to try to fix the damage. It would be a lot smarter to plan our infrastructure now and start building it now. So that there isn't damage, or at least as much damage from hurricanes that are going to be stronger from more red tides that are going to happen because of the climate warmed world from higher temperatures that are going to be much more of a threat to the elderly population here. We're going to have to figure out a way to do it faster. And I would say that we have to stop denying that this is a problem and say it's somebody else's problem. It isn't. It's our problem and it's our problem right now.

The Florida Climate Forecast Conference is Friday, Nov. 19 at the Selby Auditorium on the campus of USF Sarasota-Manatee.

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.

Cathy Carter is the education reporter for WUSF 89.7 and StateImpact Florida.
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