LSU researchers examine 100+ years of hurricane hits along East Coast, Gulf Coast

June 30, 2004

Three LSU researchers have examined more than 100 years of data on hurricane strikes from the coast of Texas to New England and they've found that, historically, the "hottest" region for hits is South Florida, followed by North Carolina and the Northern Gulf Coast, from East Texas to the Florida panhandle.

Early results from their research also reveal certain trends, such as a major decline in activity for the South Florida coast and a marked increase in activity for North Carolina, particularly in the Cape Hatteras region.

LSU Assistant Professor of Geography and Anthropology Barry Keim, LSU Professor Emeritus Bob Muller and James P. Morgan Distinguished Professor Greg Stone, examined 45 points along the Gulf and East Coasts, from South Padre Island, Texas, to Eastport, Maine.

Keim said that storm frequency in the region has been the subject of previous research, but there has been no large-scale examination of hurricane strike trends and how they vary geographically.

"Data for the Northern Gulf Coast showed high frequencies, but no trends whatsoever," said Keim. "However, of the two 'hot spots' on the East Coast, South Florida has seen a dramatic decline in activity, while North Carolina has seen a dramatic increase since 1900."

Keim explained that, despite major strikes like Hurricane Andrew, the last 50 years have been relatively benign to the South Florida coast, with fewer major storms hitting the area directly. Despite the trend, Keim said things could easily change and South Florida could once again become the primary "hot spot" for strikes.

"When you look at the frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes, Louisiana ranks right up there with Key West, Fla., - each having 36 hits between 1900 and 2000," said Muller.

According to Stone, director of LSU's Coastal Studies Institute, this is particularly problematic for Louisiana, given the rapid coastal land loss that the state is experiencing, and the increased vulnerability of the coast to storm surge and storm wave damage.

"These data show a definite clustering of storms around certain parts of the country that could have very important societal implications," said Stone. "For example, despite no long-term trend in Northern Florida, frequencies have been high since 1994, which has resulted in dramatic beach erosion and the subsequent need for widespread beach nourishment. Such projects have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars."

The researchers plan to finalize their data and issue a complete report on it in the coming months. For more information, contact Barry Keim at the Louisiana Office of State Climatology at 225-578-6170 or visit the LOSC Web site at http://www.losc.lsu.edu.
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Louisiana State University

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