Cities Underwater: Miami

July 2, 2013

Perhaps the dolts at Rolling Stone should stick to photos of aging rock stars, because they just embarrass themselves when they stray into science and reason.  Their boneheaded article by Jeff Goodell, “Goodbye, Miami” starts out by looking back from some fictitious hurricane in 2030.  This fantasy breathlessly tells us…

“When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030… A dead manatee floated in the pool where Elvis had once swum. Most of the damage occurred not from the hurricane’s 175-mph winds, but from the 24-foot storm surge that overwhelmed the low-lying city.”

Well, at least they snuck in something about a dead rock-n-roller.  They continue…

The storm knocked out the wastewater-treatment plant on Virginia Key, forcing the city to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage into Biscayne Bay. Tampons and condoms littered the beaches, and the stench of human excrement stoked fears of cholera. More than 800 people died, many of them swept away by the surging waters that submerged much of Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Wait!  Don’t the folks at Rolling Stone think “condoms littering the beaches” are a good thing?  I’m confused.

After another paragraph of blather they really get to the point…

But Hurricane Milo was unexpectedly devastating. Because sea-level­ rise had already pushed the water table so high, it took weeks for the storm waters to recede…And still, the waters kept rising, nearly a foot each decade. By the latter end of the 21st century, Miami became something else entirely: a popular snorkeling spot where people could swim with sharks and sea turtles and explore the wreckage of a great American city.

Well now, Mr. Goodell, I can’t decide if you are dishonest or just plain stupid. Anybody who is going to put his fingers to the keyboard to write an article about sea level rise at a particular coastal city would surely look up the sea level data for the region before indulging in such preposterous fantasies.

I’ll help him out.  Here is a list of sea level tide gauge sites in Florida with long and up-to-date records.  Click on any of then to see the sea level plots from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level.

Fernandina Beach, Florida: 100 years of data, 2.02 mm/year  (0.8 inches/decade)

Mayport, Florida: 80 years of data, 2.40 mm/year (0.9 inches/decade)

Key West , Florida: 100 years of data, 2.24 mm/year (0.9 inches/decade)

Naples, Florida: 40 years of data, 2.02  mm/year  (0.8 inches/decade)

Fort Myers, Florida:  40 years of data, 2.40 mm/year (0.9 inches/decade)

St. Petersburg, Florida: 60 years of data, 2.36 mm/year (0.9 inches/decade)

Clearwater Beach, Florida: 40 years of data, 2.43 mm/year (1.0 inches/decade)

Cedar Key, Florida: 100 years of data, 1.80 mm/year (0.7 inches/decade)

Apalachicola, Florida:  40 years of data,  1.38 mm/year (0.5 inches/decade)

Panama City, Florida: 40 years of data, 0.75 mm/year (0.3 inches/decade)

Pensacola, Florida: 90 years of data,  2.1 mm/year (0.8 inches/decade)

Look at those numbers.  They don’t exactly look like “nearly a foot each decade,” do they?

OK, Mr. Goodnell, stick with me here – we’re going to do some 5th grade math.  Look at the data above and make an estimate of how much the sea level will rise along the Florida coast by 2030.  How about we go with 2 inches (although that is certainly too high).

Now suppose your fictitious hurricane does bring a “24-foot storm surge.” Oh no!!! with the additional sea level rise that storm surge will be 2 inches higher!!!


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