This manuscript was motivated by discussion among the authors at and following a landfall risk workshop organized and sponsored by the Risk Prediction Initiative of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences in London in June 2015. While the views presented herein are those of the authors, we acknowledge further motivating discussion during that workshop provided by Kerry Emanuel, Robert Muir-Wood, Amato Evan, and Tim Doggett. This manuscript has benefited from discussions with Andrew Hazelton, Ryan Truchelut, Levi Cowan, and Phil Klotzbach. We appreciate the recommendations by Christopher Landsea on the determination of landfall intensity using the HURDAT2 database and the constructive feedback of three anonymous reviewers. This work was partially supported by the Risk Prediction Initiative of the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Title page imagery: NOAA GOES-East satellite via the NASA GSFC GOES project (source: www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/joaquin-atlantic-ocean).
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The origins of the word “major” in describing category 3+ hurricanes appear to be later than the establishment of the Saffir–Simpson scale itself (Simpson 1971, 1974), as those publications make no mention of this distinction. However, by 1978 (Hebert and Taylor 1978) the term was in use, although we cannot be certain that the distinction did not appear in an interim work. A much later but comprehensive climatology of major hurricanes in the Atlantic (Landsea 1993) did not discuss the origins of the distinction.
This is not to say that a 5-kt difference in actual intensity does not have real physical consequences. Indeed the kinetic energy (power dissipation; Emanuel 2005) difference between 100 and 105 kt is approximately 10% (15%). The argument here is that with a 10-kt mean uncertainty in landfall VMAX, basing droughts solely upon the length of a single intensity threshold is potentially an unstable measure of landfall drought.
We note that four TCs since 1900 did not have a corresponding PMIN at the time of reported landfall VMAX (gray shading in Fig. 1b). Three of these four did have a PMIN within 12 h of landfall (before or after) that would qualify for Fig. 2. However, all three occurred during years (1906, 1909, and 1959) when other qualifying TCs were occurring, thus not changing the drought climatology. The fourth TC (number 2 in 1941) had a PMIN = 989 hPa one day after landfall and thus cannot be assumed to be representative of landfall PMIN.
This additional threshold (PMIN ≤ 950 hPa) is also provided as the mean landfall PMIN is approximately 5 hPa lower than that for the full HURDAT2 database since 1950.
We have not performed any pressure scaling for environment or latitude but recognize that a Northeast U.S. landfalling TC may exist at a similar wind intensity but with deeper pressure (see prior footnote) compared to the surrounding environment than a TC farther south. Accordingly, pressure gradient matters more than PMIN for determining VMAX. Nonetheless, using PMIN as a simple comparative metric to VMAX can be instructive if not more explanatory of resulting damage (Mendelsohn et al. 2012), and thus PMIN should not be normalized by latitude.
As a postscript, we note that after the final preparations for this manuscript, Hurricane Joaquin (2015) 1) easily satisfied the metric shown in Fig. 5 (reaching 931 hPa while existing northwest of 20°N, 70°W), 2) is one of the most intense hurricanes to ever strike the Bahamas, but 3) turned out to sea only 600 km from U.S. landfall. The 100-kt U.S. landfall drought reached 10 yr on 24 October 2015.