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Paleotempestology Resource Center

Image of Hurricane Alberto R ecent paleoclimate research reveals that relative to the past 5,000 years the most recent millennium has been a period of less intense hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin. More work to examine both frequency and intensity of severe storm events is currently underway in order to assess the 20th century in the context of the past centuries and the past millennium.

In the 20th century, category five hurricanes (the most severe on a scale of 1 - 5) have accounted for 1 percent of hurricanes, while category four hurricanes make up 9 percent and category three hurricanes make up 30 percent of all such storm events.
Only two category five storms have hit the U.S. mainland in the past 120 years-- one in the Florida Keys in 1935 and Hurricane Camille which caused extensive damage along the Mississippi coast in 1969.

During decades of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, these intense hurricanes were less frequent than in past decades. However, property losses from hurricanes increased during these years because of development in damage prone areas. However, starting in 1995, intense hurricane have become much more frequent. It is quite possible that this increase marks the beginning of an era of active hurricane conditions that may last 10 to 40 more years because of forcing by the Atlantic multidecadal mode.

The modern, instrumented record of hurricanes provides only a limited perspective of hurricane events. Questions about natural variability, the effects of global warming on hurricane activity, and the increased property losses due to hurricanes in recent years point to a need for a better understanding of the nature and characteristics of hurricanes, especially at longer time scales.

In order to gain a perspective on prior hurricanes, researchers study proxy data such as sand layers deposited by storms behind barrier islands, changes in coral chemistry, variations in tree-ring patterns growing in coastal areas, and historical documents that include ships' logs and newspaper accounts. These sources of hurricane information are starting to build a picture of past hurricane activity for the past 100s to 1000s of years.

The Paleohurricane Resource Center is designed to serve as a clearinghouse for those interested in research in this new field. Links include a wide range of resources for paleotempest and hurricane data, information and images. Contact us if you have questions or suggestions that you would like to share with us.

Preliminary Summary of Workshop on Atlantic Basin Paleohurricane Reconstructions from High Resolution Records

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18 February 2000