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Philip R. Thompson, Gary T. Mitchum, Cedric Vonesch, and Jianke Li


Interannual to multidecadal variability of winter storminess in the eastern United States was studied using water level measurements from coastal tide gauges. The proximity to the coast of the primary winter storm track in the region allows the use of tide gauges to study temporal modulations in the frequency of these storms. Storms were identified in high-passed, detided sea level anomalies in 20 gauges from all coasts of North America to assess variability in winter storminess along particular storm tracks. The primary result is a significant multidecadal increase in the number of storms affecting the southeastern United States from the early to late twentieth century. The authors propose that this change is due to an increased tendency for the jet stream to meander south over the eastern United States since the 1950s. This mechanism is supported by long-term changes in the large-scale sea level pressure pattern over North America. The nature of the multidecadal change in storm frequency is unclear, because limited tide gauge record lengths prevent distinguishing between a trend and an oscillation.

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Philip R. Thompson, Mark A. Merrifield, Judith R. Wells, and Chantel M. Chang


The rate of coastal sea level change in the northeast Pacific (NEP) has decreased in recent decades. The relative contributions to the decreased rate from remote equatorial wind stress, local longshore wind stress, and local windstress curl are examined. Regressions of sea level onto wind stress time series and comparisons between NEP and Fremantle sea levels suggest that the decreased rate in the NEP is primarily due to oceanic adjustment to strengthened trade winds along the equatorial and coastal waveguides. When taking care to account for correlations between the various wind stress time series, the roles of longshore wind stress and local windstress curl are found to be of minor importance in comparison to equatorial forcing. The predictability of decadal sea level change rates along the NEP coastline is therefore largely determined by tropical variability. In addition, the importance of accounting for regional, wind-driven sea level variations when attempting to calculate accelerations in the long-term rate of sea level rise is demonstrated.

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Xiaoyu Long, Matthew J. Widlansky, Fabian Schloesser, Philip R. Thompson, H. Annamalai, Mark A. Merrifield, and Hyang Yoon


Hawaii experienced record-high sea levels during 2017, which followed the 2015 strong El Niño and coincided with weak trade winds in the tropical northeastern Pacific. The record sea levels were associated with a combination of processes, an important contributing factor of which was the persistent high sea level (~10 cm above normal) over a large region stretching between Hawaii and Mexico. High sea levels at Mexico are known to occur during strong El Niño as the coastal thermocline deepens. Planetary wave theory predicts that these coastal anomalies propagate westward into the basin interior; however, high sea levels at Hawaii do not occur consistently following strong El Niño events. In particular, Hawaii sea levels remained near normal following the previous strong El Niño of 1997. The processes controlling whether Hawaii sea levels rise after El Niño have so far remained unknown. Atmosphere-forced ocean model experiments show that anomalous surface cooling, controlled by variable trade winds, impacts sea level via mixed layer density, explaining much of the difference in Hawaiian sea level response after the two recent strong El Niño events. In climate model projections with greenhouse warming, more frequent weak trade winds following El Niño events are expected, suggesting that the occurrence of high sea levels at Hawaii will increase as oceanic anomalies more often traverse the basin.

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