Twentieth-Century Storm Activity along the U.S. East Coast

Keqi Zhang Department of Geography, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, Maryland, and Laboratory for Coastal Research, International Hurricane Center, Florida International University, Miami, Florida

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Bruce C. Douglas Department of Geography, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, Maryland

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Stephen P. Leatherman Laboratory for Coastal Research, International Hurricane Center, Florida International University, Miami, Florida

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Abstract

It has been speculated that future global warming will change the frequency and severity of tropical and extratropical storms. The U.S. east coast is heavily impacted by such storms, so it is important to determine their natural temporal variability for the last century during which global warming has been relatively small. Storm surge data obtained from hourly tide gauge records provide a unique quantitative measure of storm duration and intensity, unlike qualitative estimates based on eyewitness reports or meteorological hindcasts. To demonstrate the potential of storm surge data for climate analysis, the authors have evaluated 10 very long records of water level anomalies. An analysis of the hourly tide gauge records along the U.S. east coast shows a considerable interdecadal variation but no discernible long-term trend in the number and intensity of moderate and severe coastal storms during this century. However, sea level rise over the last century has exacerbated the damage to fixed structures from modern storms that would have been relatively minor a century ago.

Corresponding author address: Bruce Douglas, Dept. of Geography, Le Frak Hall, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD 20742-8225.

Email: bd54@umail.umd.edu

Abstract

It has been speculated that future global warming will change the frequency and severity of tropical and extratropical storms. The U.S. east coast is heavily impacted by such storms, so it is important to determine their natural temporal variability for the last century during which global warming has been relatively small. Storm surge data obtained from hourly tide gauge records provide a unique quantitative measure of storm duration and intensity, unlike qualitative estimates based on eyewitness reports or meteorological hindcasts. To demonstrate the potential of storm surge data for climate analysis, the authors have evaluated 10 very long records of water level anomalies. An analysis of the hourly tide gauge records along the U.S. east coast shows a considerable interdecadal variation but no discernible long-term trend in the number and intensity of moderate and severe coastal storms during this century. However, sea level rise over the last century has exacerbated the damage to fixed structures from modern storms that would have been relatively minor a century ago.

Corresponding author address: Bruce Douglas, Dept. of Geography, Le Frak Hall, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD 20742-8225.

Email: bd54@umail.umd.edu

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