Estimating Annual Numbers of Atlantic Hurricanes Missing from the HURDAT Database (1878–1965) Using Ship Track Density

Gabriel A. Vecchi NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey

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Thomas R. Knutson NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey

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Abstract

This study assesses the impact of imperfect sampling in the presatellite era (between 1878 and 1965) on North Atlantic hurricane activity measures and on the long-term trends in those measures. The results indicate that a substantial upward adjustment of hurricane counts may be needed prior to 1965 to account for likely “missed” hurricanes due to sparse density of reporting ship traffic. After adjusting for the estimate of missed hurricanes in the basin, the long-term (1878–2008) trend in hurricane counts changes from significantly positive to no significant change (with a nominally negative trend). The adjusted hurricane count record is more strongly connected to the difference between main development region (MDR) sea surface temperature (SST) and tropical-mean SST than with MDR SST. These results do not support the hypothesis that the warming of the tropical North Atlantic due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions has caused Atlantic hurricane frequency to increase.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Gabriel A. Vecchi, NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton University, Forrestal Campus, U.S. Route 1, Princeton, NJ 08542. Email: gabriel.a.vecchi@noaa.gov

Abstract

This study assesses the impact of imperfect sampling in the presatellite era (between 1878 and 1965) on North Atlantic hurricane activity measures and on the long-term trends in those measures. The results indicate that a substantial upward adjustment of hurricane counts may be needed prior to 1965 to account for likely “missed” hurricanes due to sparse density of reporting ship traffic. After adjusting for the estimate of missed hurricanes in the basin, the long-term (1878–2008) trend in hurricane counts changes from significantly positive to no significant change (with a nominally negative trend). The adjusted hurricane count record is more strongly connected to the difference between main development region (MDR) sea surface temperature (SST) and tropical-mean SST than with MDR SST. These results do not support the hypothesis that the warming of the tropical North Atlantic due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions has caused Atlantic hurricane frequency to increase.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Gabriel A. Vecchi, NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton University, Forrestal Campus, U.S. Route 1, Princeton, NJ 08542. Email: gabriel.a.vecchi@noaa.gov

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