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St. Petersburg, Florida: Coastal Resiliency and Community Sustainability

December 23, 2021

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Brandon Johnson and Sharon Wright share how St. Petersburg is developing a sustainability plan focused on inclusivity and climate change in EM Magazine.

Along the Gulf coast of Florida, St. Petersburg is the largest city in Pinellas County, which is the most densely populated county in the state. Often referred to as the “peninsula on the peninsula,” St. Petersburg’s 240-plus miles of shoreline contribute to the appeal of the city, but also expose a direct vulnerability to sea level rise (SLR) and climate change effects.

Hurricane season brings recurring anxiety to Floridians. Yet even without the effects of a tropical storm, St. Petersburg residents get a sneak peek, usually a few times a year, to the climate challenges the city faces. One of these climate previews occurs during the King Tides, which are naturally occurring, exceptionally high tides that can produce water levels a foot or more higher than normal tides. This phenomenon is dependent in large part on the position and phase of the moon and may occur when no other storms or compounding weather-related factors are present. Seeing properties and streets flooded on a bright sunny day is a tangible warning of the potential impact that SLR can have in the city. Additionally, the intense rainstorms that pop up across Florida, frequently in the heat of the late summer and early fall, can dump multiple inches of rain in a short amount time. If the storms hit during high tide, they can overwhelm the existing stormwater infrastructure and accumulate water on land. Climate change is expected to further contribute to the intensity and occurrence of these torrential rain squalls as well as named tropical storm systems.

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