Storminess Variability along the California Coast: 1858–2000

Peter D. Bromirski Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

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Reinhard E. Flick California Department of Boating and Waterways, Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

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Daniel R. Cayan Climate Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and U.S. Geological Survey, La Jolla, California

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Abstract

The longest available hourly tide gauge record along the West Coast (U.S.) at San Francisco yields meteorologically forced nontide residuals (NTR), providing an estimate of the variation in “storminess” from 1858 to 2000. Mean monthly positive NTR (associated with low sea level pressure) show no substantial change along the central California coast since 1858 or over the last 50 years. However, in contrast, the highest 2% of extreme winter NTR levels exhibit a significant increasing trend since about 1950. Extreme winter NTR also show pronounced quasi-periodic decadal-scale variability that is relatively consistent over the last 140 years. Atmospheric sea level pressure anomalies (associated with years having high winter NTR) take the form of a distinct, large-scale atmospheric circulation pattern, with intense storminess associated with a broad, southeasterly displaced, deep Aleutian low that directs storm tracks toward the California coast.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Peter D. Bromirski, Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8602 La Jolla Shores Dr., La Jolla, CA 92037. Email: pbromirski@ucsd.edu

Abstract

The longest available hourly tide gauge record along the West Coast (U.S.) at San Francisco yields meteorologically forced nontide residuals (NTR), providing an estimate of the variation in “storminess” from 1858 to 2000. Mean monthly positive NTR (associated with low sea level pressure) show no substantial change along the central California coast since 1858 or over the last 50 years. However, in contrast, the highest 2% of extreme winter NTR levels exhibit a significant increasing trend since about 1950. Extreme winter NTR also show pronounced quasi-periodic decadal-scale variability that is relatively consistent over the last 140 years. Atmospheric sea level pressure anomalies (associated with years having high winter NTR) take the form of a distinct, large-scale atmospheric circulation pattern, with intense storminess associated with a broad, southeasterly displaced, deep Aleutian low that directs storm tracks toward the California coast.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Peter D. Bromirski, Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8602 La Jolla Shores Dr., La Jolla, CA 92037. Email: pbromirski@ucsd.edu

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