Update: As Hurricane Irma barrels toward South Florida, Miami Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and the Keys have all started ordering evacuations from flood zones. Click www.miaminewtimes.com/news for up-to-the-minute news and warnings.
Global warming is an inevitable threat. By 2045, sea levels are expected to rise at least a foot, and Miami has been called ground zero for global warming. No one's quite sure how the rising foot of water will affect South Florida and the millions of people who live and own property here.
But Sara Denka, a staff scientist at Coastal Risk Consulting, a Plantation-based firm that helps businesses and homeowners adapt to sea-level rise, set out to determine the neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to sea-level rise. She studied each ZIP code in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. She looked up how much land each ZIP code had that was under three feet of elevation and then compared it to the population there.
"It's basically a combined score of a large population and a lot of land under three feet," Denka explains.
But it's important to distinguish, Denka adds, that there are many other factors to determine risk and vulnerability to sea level rise, like critical infrastructure, demographics, and politics. "It is also important to realize that this is a very general analysis and that certain areas within these zip codes are at higher or lower risk than others," she says.
The results were still shocking. It wasn't the coastal areas like Miami Beach that had the most people living on low-lying land, she found, but the western swampland-turned-suburbs.
"When most people think about sea-level rise, they think about coastal areas," she says. "This is an interesting twist, and people need to know that these western suburbs are very at-risk."
Doom and gloom movies like The Day After Tomorrow would have us believe that one day a tsunami-sized wave would come in and take us out. That's definitely not going to happen. For neighborhoods not located on the coast, rising seas will cause groundwater intrusion and an increasing number of flood days each year.
Here are the ten South Florida ZIP codes Denka found with the most land under three feet and highest population:
10. Hollywood/Miramar, Florida 33025
This area is located just north of Miami-Dade/Broward county line and wedged between Interstate 75 and the Florida Turnpike. Despite being situated a few miles from the coast, there are man-made lakes and canals everywhere, putting suburban canal- and lake-front homes at a unique risk.
9. Florida City/Homestead, Florida 33034
This is the southernmost ZIP code in the continental United States (hint: Key West ain't "continental."). The majority of this ZIP code is technically marshy, Everglades swampland. But at the northeastern edge are Florida City and tourist attractions like the Everglades Alligator Farm and idyllic fruit stand Robert Is Here. The Everglades National Park and Flamingo campground are also located here.
8. Plantation, Florida 33312
This neighborhood is wedged between Interstate 95 and route 441, just west of the airport. It's mostly suburban, single-family homes. A handful of finger isles and man-made lakes puts this ZIP code at a greater risk of flooding.
7. Homestead, Florida 33032
Located just south of Cutler Bay and west of the Redland, these areas were originally populated in the 1900s by Florida East Coast Railroad workers and their families. Naranja is the Spanish word for "orange." That region got its name from all the orange groves that were once there.
6. Key West, Florida 33040
This is the southernmost ZIP code in the United States. It's home to the famous Mile Marker 0 at the southernmost point, Mallory Square, and the Ernest Hemingway House. There are also scores of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts that are at risk once flooding increases.
5. Pembroke Pines, Florida 33029
This ZIP code is located just east of the Everglades and west of Interstate 75. It's mostly single-family homes here, many of which are situated on the man-made lakes and canals.
4. Pembroke Pines/Miramar, Florida 33027
Like the last ZIP code, this suburban area is also full of canals and gated communities. Miramar Hospital is located here, along with two golf courses: the Grand Palms Hotel and Golf Resort and Century Village Golf Club.
3. Medley/Doral, Florida 33178
Located just across the Miami River from Hialeah, this region houses a handful of important industrial plants like Rinker plant and the Titan American Pennusco Cement Plant. Trump's National Resort is located here too. The eastern reaches of the ZIP code, in Doral, is mostly suburban. It's also home to the highest percentage of Venezuelan residents in this country.
2. Hialeah Gardens/Miami Lakes 33018
Located just off Highway 27, Interstate 75, and the Florida Turnpike, this western ZIP code is mostly a suburban, middle-class neighborhood. A handful of authentic Latin eateries is located here too.
1. Leisure City Homestead 33033
This is a predominately suburban neighborhood. The most famous attraction here is Coral Castle.