How hurricanes actually help Florida ecosystems thrive

UCF professor talks about how storms shape Florida

In the middle of hurricane season, most people dread learning about an incoming storm but UCF Associate Professor of water resource engineering Kelly Kibler says storms actually benefit our state in some ways.

Kibler spoke to News 6 anchors Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden on Florida’s Fourth Estate podcast about the positive impacts.

“A hurricane represents a climatic extreme and things happen during extreme situations that don’t happen during regular weather,” Kibler said.

Kibler explained while hurricanes sound scary to humans, many ecosystems need them.

“From the perspective of our aquatic ecosystems this is something that has to happen in order for them to continue functioning,” Kibler said.

Kibler says some animals including the Florida Scrub Jay need hurricanes.

“It is the only bird species that is endemic to Florida so it’s like Florida’s only bird that is only here it comes from Florida and it wouldn’t be here if not for disturbance like hurricanes or wildfires,” Kibler said.

If our ecosystem didn’t experience disturbance for a really long time it wouldn’t be appropriate for that bird and it would be outcompeted by other species, Kibler explained.

Kibler said our natural landscape also helps prevent erosion and protect our drinking water and hurricanes play a big role in that.

“Some of these natural features that can function as infrastructure, like we’ve got wetlands, we’ve got oyster reefs, we have got mangrove forests, we’ve got seagrass beds all of these things need regular disturbance that comes in the form of storms to be maintained so just the way that someone would have to go out and maintain that sea wall regular storms are kind of our maintenance crew that comes out and maintains our barrier islands, our dunes our mangrove forests,” Kibler said.

Fast-moving water from storms also brings sand and dirt into mangrove forests that would otherwise not be there, sustaining the life of the mangrove forest. Kibler says it’s like nature’s sandbags.

“Over time when we get enough of these storms these can actually help to function to raise the level of the mangrove wetlands, raise the level of the shoreline and maybe even keep pace with changing conditions like sea level rise,” Kibler said.

She agrees a lot of erosion also happens during hurricanes but says a lot can be done to combat that issue, too.

Kibler made a pretty convincing case about the benefits of hurricanes, however, Matt says he still hates them.

Florida’s Fourth Estate looks at everything from swampy politics to a fragile environment and even the crazy headlines that make Florida the craziest state in the Union.

Ginger Gadsden and Matt Austin use decades of experience as journalists to dissect the headlines that impact Florida. Each week they have a guest host who helps give an irreverent look at the issues impacting the Sunshine State. Big influencers, like Attorney John Morgan, renowned Florida journalists and the scientists protecting Florida’s ecosystem, can often be found as guests.

Look for new episodes every Friday on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

About the Author:

Tiffany produces the 4:30 p.m. newscast and has been with News 6 since January 2019. She also produces Florida's Fourth Estate podcast. She graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in radio/TV. Tiffany has lived in Central Florida since 2004 and has covered the Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman trials and several hurricanes.