Hurricanes, Sea Level, and Baloney

WUWT has a post in which Neil Frank proclaims that Hillary Clinton is no hurricane expert but he is. (Frank’s post was originally published on The Daily Caller, but was reprinted on WUWT with permission.) He objects to Clinton having recently said that “Hurricane Matthew was likely more destructive because of climate change.”

He then launches into quite a few of what he passes off as “facts,” which aren’t. Despite having worked at the National Hurricane Center for quite a long time, he’s no expert on climate change, and when it comes to sea level rise, he’s not just “no expert,” he’s woefully ignorant. Yet he objects to Hillary Clinton’s mention of sea level rise.

This is what he had to say about that:

Empirical observation says otherwise. Since 1992 sea level in Miami has risen only a little over 1 inch — a rate of 4.2 inches per century, no faster than for millennia. Mrs. Clinton is wrong. It’s not time to move to the mountains.

Neil Frank is wrong.

The best source of information about sea level rise in Miami “since 1992” is the satellite data. The Interactive Wizard from the CU Sea Level Research Group enables you to get the satellite sea level data for any location on a 1° latitude-longitude grid, and the one just off the coast of Miami shows this:


Also shown are three smooths fit to the data, a lowess smooth, a spline fit, and a simple linear regression line.

Neil Frank said the total rise since 1992 was only a little more than an inch, and that the rate was 4.2 inches per century, which is a mere 1.07 mm/yr. But the actual rise since 1992 was 4.8 inches (according to the lowess smooth and spline fits) or 3.1 inches according to a linear regression. Linear regression also estimates the rate at 3.3 mm/yr.

If you prefer tide gauge data to satellite data, there’s one at Virginia Key in Miami. It shows this:


The rate of rise is estimated at 4.5 mm/yr, and the total rise since 1994 at 3.8 inches.

Then there’s Neil Frank’s bull about the current rate of sea level rise being “no faster than for millennia.” That is absolute nonsense.

Neil Frank is no sea level expert, but Jerry Mitrovica is. Take a look at his lecture on the topic, at the 9:44 time stamp he specifically discusses that claim, saying “I don’t even know why they bother with this it’s so obvious that that’s not true.”

He discusses how easy it is to refute Neil Frank’s claim starting around the 29:48 time stamp. It’s well worth watching. Here’s a realistic estimate of sea level over the last few millenia:


When it comes to the threat sea level rise poses to Florida, Hillary Clinton was right. Neil Frank is wrong. His statements about sea level rise in Miami are total baloney. She’s also right about man-made climate change making the damage from hurricane Matthew worse — because of sea level alone.

It’s no surprise Frank’s nonsense was printed in The Daily Caller. They’ve published nonsense about sea level rise, in Miami in particular, before. Interested readers are invited to critique this, for example.

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14 responses to “Hurricanes, Sea Level, and Baloney

  1. Wow. The ‘exercise for the student’ reminds me of Stravinsky’s descripton of the Disney excerpts of ‘Rite of Spring’ made for Fantasia: “an unresisting imbecility.” (Though for better reason, IMO; Stravinsky was a bit jaundiced by the business dealings around the project.)

    Particularly risible was his treatment of ‘subsidence’–a subsidence that, according to him, accounts for the increase in flooding that–also according to him–isn’t happening in the first place.

  2. Great piece – wrong link for “Interactive Wizard from the CU Sea Level Research Group”

    [Response: Thanks … fixed.]

  3. The link for ” Interactive Wizard from the CU Sea Level Research” actually points to this very post instead…

    [Response: Thanks … fixed.]

  4. Whachamacallit

    Heh, it was pretty obvious from the get go that he was dead wrong about sea level rise. Even vague observational evidence makes it clear how dead wrong he was.

    Although I admit, I’m curious if Matthew was actually any worse because of climate change. I’m not hurricane expert, but I heard one person who said “You can’t attribute any individual hurricane to climate change, but Matthew helps with the general trend” and another who’ve said that the recharging aspects of the hurricane were far from normal. But I don’t know.

    • Philippe Chantreau

      It’s simple really. Any hurricane that comes close to shore is made worse by climate change, because climate change makes the sea level rise. Therefore, the storm surge caused by the storm gets even higher than it otherwise would. Sandy dumped sea water in he New York metro. Any hurricane affecting the South East will have a worse storm surge than it would in the absence of sea level. That’s not even getting into a discussion of SST and storm development.

  5. It’s as I’ve said before, deniers can lie to their hearts content and rarely get called out on those lies by the mainstream media, which is also on the contrarian side of the fence. That article in the Daily Caller is just ridiculous. I didn’t check those Miami photos mentioned but saw something similar on another denier website recently. The photos had no references about when they were taken and no mention was made of expansion work in the 70s, importing huge quantities of sand. For some reason, deniers aren’t interested in the truth, only in delaying action so that warnings of catastrophic climate change will come true.

  6. David B. Benson

    For a more long range forecast, the Wikipedia page on Pliocene climate points out that about 3 million years ago the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was 400 ppm and the sea stand was about 25 meters higher than now. As the current concentration of carbon dioxide is 400 ppm, this suggests that we will eventually have a sea level rise of about 25 meters, provided the concentration does not drop. On various grounds I estimate this will take around 1000 years.

    • The simplistic relationship between elevated CO2 levels and sea level rise happily doesn’t extend back to mid-Pliocene warm period. The seas were a lot higher while the CO2 levels are considered in the range 360-400ppm, a level we are now rapidly exceeding. If the mid-Pliocene CO2-Sea Level relationship did still hold, then we would be in the deep end, literally.

      What I find interesting about the mid-Pliocene is not its static climate. but the factors that brought it about and the factors that ended it. It is an exceedingly complicated detective story that faces the paleoclimatologists. A useful overview is perhaps provided by the this Oceanus Magazine article.

  7. If it’s in the Daily Caller, and it’s about climate, you can guarantee that it’s wrong. Their articles exist solely to misinform the reader. As always, the sole purpose of global warming denial is to reject any and all responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

  8. I think we have to conclude that Dr Neil Frank must be rather delusional. He is certainly no way a Hurricane expert which is odd given his former employment as on the subject of tropical cyclones, his alleged subject of expertise, he mouths off nonsense rather than confirm to reality.

    His main argument against Clinton, the only one that he backs with some substance, is that 1893 was a bigger hurricane year for the USA than 2016 is. This is correct. The 1893 Atlantic Hurricane season was very active, and a lot of that activity hit the USA. In terms of Accumulative Cyclone Energy (ACE), 1893 was the 6th most stormy season on record (See here (usually two clicks to ‘download your attachment’.)
    (Note in that graph, 2016 will be updated to the end of October soon. This was a very active October, more ctive than even 2005. The 2016 season’s ACE today sits at 125.)
    Of course, in that 165 record (which stretches back to 1851 and is subject to a lot of uncertainty in the early years), 40% of the top twenty Atlantic seasons for ACE in that record have occurred in the last 20 years. That does rather suggest that Atlnantic hurricane activity is higher today than it was in any other period on record. Indeed, the average ACE for Atlantic Hurricane Seasons since 1990 is higher than at any prior 26-year period on record. (The rolling 26-year average presents a bit of a roller coaster with today’s peak topping previous peaks but not by much. The record does however show a strong upward trend in ACE.)

    The other claim by Dr Neil Frank is that “There has been a worldwide 30-year lull in hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones despite the simultaneous warming—manmade or natural.”
    Historical information about tropical cyclones worldwide is a lot less reliable than for Atlantic hurricanes. But worldwide we have good information since 1970, which I make to be 40+ years ago. So do we see Frank’s “30-year lull”? Dr Maue’s graphs say we don’t. It appears Dr Neil Frank, former Director, National Hurrricane Center, is full of that special sort of bullshit which gets swept up by the gravitational pull of the planet Wattsupia. It’s where it belongs.

  9. For Matthew I thought storm surge wasn’t a big deal (through luck: it made landfall at low tide both in Haiti and in the Bahamas), rather it was the wind and rain. Which are also expected to be worse in a warmer world.

    • Storm surge wasn’t a big deal for the Caribbean, but it was a big deal for the US coast, where record high tides were observed over a wide area. Damage-wise, the worst affected area was probably Flagler beach near St. Augustine, Florida, where the coastal highway was washed away in places. (From the photos I’ve seen, they are going to have to reroute it in places.) The temporary replacement lanes are supposed to be open around the end of November.

      But record-shattering high tides were recorded along the Georgia coast, and into the Carolinas.

      That said, I’d agree with your main point: By far the most of the 49 US fatalities were due to rain-fueled river flooding in North Carolina. (I was surprised to read that one county there only recently got their schools open again.)

      Also, notable from a climate change politics point of view was the ‘Drudge Report’ controversy, in which politically-motivated conspiracy theory irresponsibly endangered the lives of coastal residents. Rather an example in miniature of the whole epistemological problem with climate change in popular culture.

  10. Where did you get the tide-gauge data for Virginia Key? I found monthly data here, but it looks sparser than that in your plot.

    [Response: That’s where I got it. I removed the annual cycle myself.]