Intense New England Hurricanes Much More Numerous 340 to 1800 Years Ago

By: Jeff Masters , 6:43 PM GMT on February 17, 2015

Numerous Category 3 and 4 hurricanes frequently pounded New England during the first millennium, from the peak of the Roman Empire into the height of the Middle Ages, said a study accepted for publication this month in the open-access journal Earth’s Future, Climate Forcing of Unprecedented Intense-Hurricane Activity in the Last 2,000 Years. These prehistoric hurricanes were stronger than any hurricane documented to hit the region since the mid-1800s, and would be catastrophic if they hit the region today, according to Jeff Donnelly, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts and lead author of the new paper. In a press release, Donnelly said, “We hope this study broadens our sense of what is possible and what we should expect in a warmer climate. We may need to begin planning for a category 3 hurricane landfall every decade or so rather than every 100 or 200 years.”


Figure 1. The storm surge from Category 2 Hurricane Carol in 1954 batters New England's Edgewood Yacht Club near Providence, Rhode Island. Image credit: NOAA Photo Library.

The paper is the latest contribution to the field of paleotempestology--the study of past tropical cyclone activity by means sediment deposits, cave speleothems, tree rings, coral deposits, as well as historical documentary records. In this case, the researchers took sediment cores from Salt Pond near Falmouth on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The pond is separated from the ocean by a 1.3- to 1.8-meter (4.3- to 5.9-foot) high sand barrier. Over hundreds of years, storm surges from Category 2 and stronger hurricanes have deposited sediment over the barrier and into the pond. The scientists were able to calibrate the timing of the intense hurricane strikes by dating the layers from Category 2 Hurricane Bob of 1991, the 1675 (September 7) New England hurricane, and the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635, which passed across southeastern New England and caused widespread damage consistent with a category 3 hurricane.


Figure 2. Scientists collect a sediment core from Salt Pond in Falmouth, Massachusetts, to study hurricane overwash deposits placed there by storm surges from intense hurricanes. The aluminum tube was vibrated into the muddy sediment at the bottom of the pond and then extracted with a hoist. Image Credit: WHOI

The prehistoric sediments showed that there were two periods of elevated intense hurricane activity on Cape Cod--from 150 to 1150, and from 1400 to 1675. Previous paleotempestology studies also found evidence of high hurricane activity during 150 - 1150 A.D. from the Caribbean to the Gulf Coast. Both time periods had unusually warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Main Development Region for hurricanes, from the Caribbean to the coast of Africa. Warm ocean temperatures in this region have been linked to increased intense hurricane activity by a number of recent research papers. In recent decades, ocean temperatures in the Main Development Region have surpassed the warmth of prehistoric levels, and these waters are expected to warm further over the next century as the climate heats up, suggesting that intense hurricane activity in New England may return to the levels of 340 to 1800 years ago. However, other factors besides warming SSTs will also shape what happens in the North Atlantic. For example, the pattern of ocean warming could bring more El Niño-style wind shear to the Atlantic, reducing hurricane activity. Still, New England would be wise to take heed of Donnelly's advice that we may need to begin planning for a category 3 hurricane landfall every decade or so rather than every 100 or 200 years.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting ColoradoBob1:
I would remind everyone Dr. Jennifer Francis is right. This deep loop in the jet stream has been in place for weeks .
It has been stuck for weeks, And it is exactly what she forecast.
Could you give her a call and ask her what she thinks the low will be for the next two days? I need to adjust the greenhouse heater.
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After the southern Snow storm, I was wondering, What are the opinions of "space savers" in the South? Those are lawnchairs or something that is used to mark your spot after you dug it out of snow in areas of New England that you have to park in the street.
violations are punished by keying a car, so slashing tires, to breaking windows depending on neighborhood and size of snowstorm.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
133. MahFL
Quoting 19. Neapolitan:

Probably get an argument about that in Tacloban ..........




Infrastructure improvements would not have helped much in Tacloban, any force that moves ships inland is going to destroy even concrete buildings.
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Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
131. bwi
Quoting 129. washingtonian115:

I'm hering from some forecasters in the area that the models are underestimating the cold air mass.I'd rather have snow then ice and rain making a mess.


snow good; rain whatever; sleet meh; freezing rain bad
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I would remind everyone Dr. Jennifer Francis is right. This deep loop in the jet stream has been in place for weeks .
It has been stuck for weeks, And it is exactly what she forecast.
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Quoting 126. bwi:



NWS is talking mixed precip for the weekend storm here in DC as well, but the surface freezing line is well north of us for most of the event, at least on this GFS run. If that verifies, it seems to me likely to be cold rain (which would be far preferable to freezing rain).
I'm hering from some forecasters in the area that the models are underestimating the cold air mass.I'd rather have snow then ice and rain making a mess.
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Quoting 109. islander101010:

could it be true chatter on the internet the australian version of the storm of the century could be brewing just e of australia the leftovers of lamb and another disturbance might combine and become a powerhouse.



I'd hardly call it call it as such just yet. Oz Cyclone Chasers thinks it'll (if a cyclone forms) landfall north of Gladstone as the Aussie equivalent of a category 1. It will, however, bring over 200 mm. of rain as well as higher king tides to parts of Queensland.


Link
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Quoting 123. hurricanes2018:



i am getting ready for more snow on wednesday night!


I will be in the lower 70's.
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126. bwi
Quoting 117. hurricanes2018:

watch out for ice to for boston


NWS is talking mixed precip for the weekend storm here in DC as well, but the surface freezing line is well north of us for most of the event, at least on this GFS run. If that verifies, it seems to me likely to be cold rain (which would be far preferable to freezing rain).
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Quoting 107. weatherlover94:

Winter Storm Pandora ?


It will Be like a Pandora if it takes the southern track..TWC said it may be a large long track system with a lot of energy.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting Naga5000:


Because Bob is the best documented with multiple confirmations of location, strength, overflow into the Salt Pond with photographic documentation, etc. Bob is the best analogue because there is hardly any uncertainty in regards to the metrics they are documenting. According to the research, no the 1938 storm did not seem to leave a "coarse event bed". That's not to say they weren't able to be measured by some other proxy, but in particular not this proxy.


Take a look at #116 and let me know what you think.
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i am getting ready for more snow on wednesday night!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting Trouper415:
Hello,

I live in central California and as you know it hasn't rained much the past couple months. I was looking at the AccuWeather extended forecast and it showed a pretty large pattern change beginning around the 5th of March, and north and central California recieving rain for a few weeks after that.

I then looked at the the weather for Boston (as an indicator for the new England weather) and it showed the intense cold letting up around that time.
As it has been the past couple winters, cold east and dry west, because of the kinked jet stream.
I know it's hard to put much forecast confidence 3 weeks away, but I thought the East coast - west coast pattern change was prevelent and it wasn't just the wrest coast beginning too get rain, but a continental pattern shift.
Any thoughts?
Thanks
You're pretty much right on all counts. Until there's a continental pattern shift, the most probable forecast is nothing much changes. The pattern will shift. The models have no clue when that will happen. The models have very little clue what will happen in the next 5 days. I wish I could say it will start raining again California in March 5 and it will stop snowing in Boston. But I'd be lying. All we can do is watch.
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Quoting 118. StormTrackerScott:

HRRR model is showing the heaviest rains occurring across C FL between 11pm thru 4am as this strong short wave energy moves by to the north and there could some thunderstorms mixed in.


more snow for east haven,conn to
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting MahFL:


The study did not say that, they said the NE had been hit by more larger hurricanes in the past compared to recently. Studies have been done in FL regarding Hurricane frequency.
Yes, I see I misunderstood that part. Read my post #116 for what the study really said, however.
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Hello,

I live in central California and as you know it hasn't rained much the past couple months. I was looking at the AccuWeather extended forecast and it showed a pretty large pattern change beginning around the 5th of March, and north and central California recieving rain for a few weeks after that.

I then looked at the the weather for Boston (as an indicator for the new England weather) and it showed the intense cold letting up around that time.
As it has been the past couple winters, cold east and dry west, because of the kinked jet stream.
I know it's hard to put much forecast confidence 3 weeks away, but I thought the East coast - west coast pattern change was prevelent and it wasn't just the wrest coast beginning too get rain, but a continental pattern shift.
Any thoughts?
Thanks
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HRRR model is showing the heaviest rains occurring across C FL between 11pm thru 4am as this strong short wave energy moves by to the north and there could some thunderstorms mixed in.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 113. bwi:



Look at the precip totals for Eastern Massachusetts on 18z GFS -- that would be a lot of rain 2+ inches on top of a lot of snow I think.

watch out for ice to for boston
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting LAbonbon:

Close, or perhaps this:

"This study would find storms that were similar, or stronger, in intensity to Bob, and followed a relatively similar track to the west of the study location. Less intense historical events (minor tropical cyclones, extratropical storms, and more distal intense storms) would not have been identified in this study."

Your comment regarding chores made me think of Hi and Lois' job jar :)
That's me. I'm turning into a house husband at my age. Instead of playing with my radios or trains, I'm cleaning the kitchen. So much for that second childhood thing. :-)

OK, better summary, and even more troubling. If this study showed all these storms that just happened to go the right way and just happened to be big enough, how many 1944 and 1938 storms also occurred of which those sediments remained blissfully unaware? Just with the storms we know a lot about in the period from 1900 up until now, New England has been hit by a lot of cat 2 or near cat 2 storms, plus the biggies like 1938. What kinds of storms were the needed proxies for all the other studies? Is the supposed return rate now something like 8 years? 5? 3? And why wasn't something like your summary included in the abstract so we didn't have to spend all day getting to this point? I realize it reduces the entertainment value of the US being attacked by cat 3 hurricanes every 10 years but it would have been honest. That whole statement about cat 3 hurricanes really bothers me too. I can guess that Donnelly has some strong views about global warming but he's got to be careful not let that overwhelm what he says for shock effect to the media.
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100. wartsttocs

What I know about mountains .................... They will kill you if they get a chance. And they are mindless, so you better bring yours.
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113. bwi
Quoting 99. hydrus:

More winter precip for folks who do not want anymore..




Look at the precip totals for Eastern Massachusetts on 18z GFS -- that would be a lot of rain 2+ inches on top of a lot of snow I think.
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112. MahFL
Quoting 16. sar2401:

... why larger hurricanes would have only hit the NE coast...


The study did not say that, they said the NE had been hit by more larger hurricanes in the past compared to recently. Studies have been done in FL regarding Hurricane frequency.
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.69" so far in Longwood. Rain has been real heavy at times.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting tampabaymatt:


I think the issue might be the "link button" isn't a very intuitive thing to find.
Done with the dishwasher, sweeping, and cleaning the counter tops. But, yes, you're right. Most modern web sites have software that detects what looks like a link and automatically add the code to make it clickable. Note I used the word modern there...
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could it be true chatter on the internet the australian version of the storm of the century could be brewing just e of australia the leftovers of lamb and another disturbance might combine and become a powerhouse.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 90. sar2401:

I read that. What it tells me is that the criteria for this study was analogs of Bob, even though the deposition from Carol and 1938 were clearly visible and labeled as such in the core sample picture. If a storm didn't overwash into the pond, did it not show up in the deposited material? The 1938 hurricane, the most intense storm since 1635, passed within about 180 km west of Salt Pond, but that just wasn't close enough? One of the things I was trained to do was to look at baselines chosen for studies and see if they were the best ones in terms of the hypothesis. This all may be perfectly clear to a paleotempestologist, but it seems odd that you'd not choose the only real cat 3 hurricane that hit west of Salt Pond as your marker and use Bob instead.


Because Bob is the best documented with multiple confirmations of location, strength, overflow into the Salt Pond with photographic documentation, etc. Bob is the best analogue because there is hardly any uncertainty in regards to the metrics they are documenting. According to the research, no the 1938 storm did not seem to leave a "coarse event bed". That's not to say they weren't able to be measured by some other proxy, but in particular not this proxy.
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Winter Storm Pandora ?

Quoting 99. hydrus:

More winter precip for folks who do not want anymore..


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Quoting wartsttocs:


Unfortunately this happens a lot in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This lady was very well prepared, but 100 mph sustained winds with zero visibility blowing snow can do even the best in. I don't know why some winter hikers underestimate the mountains here. Maybe because the elevation isn't that high, but it is home to some of "the worst weather in the world" as the famous Mount Washington observatory claims. I have hiked some of these mountains in June and the bottom can be 75 and sunny, but once you get up there I am glad I packed a heavy coat. Do people try other mountains in the worst winter weather in other parts? Because it seems we get a few of these every year and this lady seemed one of the most prepared. It is really deadly up there and I know of a couple suicides at Mt. Lafayette where I have climbed.
Yes, happened in the Sierra, the Coast Ranges, anyplace people can find a mountain to get away. None of those quite have the unique hazards of Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range though. I have to assume she was experienced enough to at least make a cursory check of the weather, but maybe not. If I had read the crew at the top of the Mt. Washington observatory were zipping themselves in for the next few days and you were pretty much on your own if you needed rescue, I probably would have postponed. I suspect it was President's Day weekend, and she was going to use the time to bag those peaks before she had to get back to the City and start trading again. Now she doesn't have to worry about that. :-(
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I wonder if i am alone in this feeling. I have been a faithful friend of wunderground since at least 2007. I do not like the lack of metereology i am seeing now in my forecasts since they joined in with the weather channel. It has become a guessing game, a model chaser, and a follow the Atlanta based weather office for my forecasts here in Calhoun,Ga. We are 50+ miles from Chattanooga and our weather is not even in the Atlanta market on the TV stations for the most part. There is a big difference in our weather and the weather for Rome which is only 25-30 miles south of us, but we re given the same basic forecast as them.

It did not used to be that way. Wunderground treated you as a local market and graded your forecast accordingly. They also did not just "FOLLOW SAID MODELDS" but used guts and instinct IN THEIR FORECASTING.(or at least it seemed that way)

Now maybe i am way off, but it seems they have become a copy cat weather channel app.....
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Quoting 78. luvtogolf:



It was pretty heavy rain but brief. Your comment raised a question that I never really thought about. Is there criteria? We'll see if an expert answers.
Link
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 98. sar2401:

Rats! I knew I should never have sat down here again until I got the dishwasher emptied. :-) I don't think my two semesters of geology quite qualify me as an expert in this are but I'm pretty good at reading English. Is this a fair conclusion, based on Bob?

"This study would find storms that were close analogs to Bob in terms of strength and path. Any storms that were weaker of followed a path too far west from Salt Pond wouldn't have been found with this study".

I haven't gotten hot and heavy into the forcing part yet. I have to empty the dishwasher!

Close, or perhaps this:

"This study would find storms that were similar, or stronger, in intensity to Bob, and followed a relatively similar track to the west of the study location. Less intense historical events (minor tropical cyclones, extratropical storms, and more distal intense storms) would not have been identified in this study."

Your comment regarding chores made me think of Hi and Lois' job jar :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting Pipejazz:


Try writing the author for a study copy. He may oblige you. David J. Mallinson

Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA

Corresponding author. Link


mallinsond@ecu.edu
Thanks. I already did that and am awaiting an answer. He looks like a nice guy in his picture but, boy, does he ever look young! I turn 69 tomorrow, so I'm probably more sensitive to that than usual. :-)
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Quoting 96. Methurricanes:

Doesn't he have bigger problems?

Post deleted, in case this post has caused certain problems with this blog. Good night everybody.
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Quoting 74. ColoradoBob1:

Kate Matrosova, a New York resident and Wall Street trader, froze to death while attempting a solo hike of the Presidential Mountain Range in New Hampshire, over the weekend.

This reminds me of the fellow in Utah who had to cut his arm off , because he didn't tell anyone where he was going.


Unfortunately this happens a lot in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This lady was very well prepared, but 100 mph sustained winds with zero visibility blowing snow can do even the best in. I don't know why some winter hikers underestimate the mountains here. Maybe because the elevation isn't that high, but it is home to some of "the worst weather in the world" as the famous Mount Washington observatory claims. I have hiked some of these mountains in June and the bottom can be 75 and sunny, but once you get up there I am glad I packed a heavy coat. Do people try other mountains in the worst winter weather in other parts? Because it seems we get a few of these every year and this lady seemed one of the most prepared. It is really deadly up there and I know of a couple suicides at Mt. Lafayette where I have climbed.
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More winter precip for folks who do not want anymore..

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting LAbonbon:


In addition to Naga's posted excerpt from the paper, these are two excerpts from the supporting information for the paper:

"Six additional extratropical storms resulted in storm tides between 0.9 and 1.05 m above MHW
at the Woods Hole gauge between 1932 and 1982 CE and like the extratropical storms of the
last few decades, none of these storms resulted in event beds in Salt Pond. A series of
hurricanes made landfall on Long Island, NY in the middle part of the 20th century (e.g., 1938,
1944, 1954 CE), and while Woods Hole experienced significant storm tides related to these
events [Boldt et al., 2010], none of these events appear to have left a distinguishable coarse
event bed in Salt Pond
."

"Historically extratropical storms have not generated sufficient storm tides and wave energy to
mobilize and transport coarse sediment to the depo%u2010center at Salt Pond. Further, despite
generating enough surge to overtop the barrier fronting Salt Pond, more distal landfalling
severe historical hurricanes (i.e. 1938, 1944, 1954) with relatively weak local winds (perhaps
tropical storm force or marginal category one strength) failed to generate event beds in Salt
Pond
."

I don't see where either Carol for the Hurricane of 1938 are shown in the soil core graphs at all. From Figure S6a of the Supporting Information, and in Figures 2c and 3 of the paper, Bob is identified, as well as the two storms from the 1600s.

I'm much more at ease reading geological methods and studies than studies regarding meteorology, so we're kind of 'opposite' in that aspect, I guess. I have no qualms with the methodology used in this study as far as the identification of event beds are concerned.

The portion of the study that no one has really talked about in the blog is the AMM/MDR SST/migrating ITCZ aspect of paper (discussed in the Climatic Forcing and Conclusions and Implications sections). That's what I'm less knowledgeable about, and would love to see some discussion of this.
Rats! I knew I should never have sat down here again until I got the dishwasher emptied. :-) I don't think my two semesters of geology quite qualify me as an expert in this are but I'm pretty good at reading English. Is this a fair conclusion, based on Bob?

"This study would find storms that were close analogs to Bob in terms of strength and path. Any storms that were weaker of followed a path too far west from Salt Pond wouldn't have been found with this study".

I haven't gotten hot and heavy into the forcing part yet. I have to empty the dishwasher!
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88. LAbonbon

It snowed 3 feet at Estes Park on May 15 th 1975 , we all went to Patricia's cabin with every bit of liquor we could haul.

Clearly the mayor has never seen cabin fever.
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Quoting 88. LAbonbon:

From the BBC:

Stop jumping from windows into snow, Boston mayor says

excerpt:

""This isn't Loon Mountain, this is the city of Boston," Mr Walsh said."
Doesn't he have bigger problems?
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Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 68. sar2401:

I decided I wasn't going to plop down $35.95 for that one either, especially since a Happy Meal is a big deal for me now. :-) The abstract did get me thinking about about some of the huge Nor'easters we've had just since I've been around and how you go about distinguishing them from cat 2 plus hurricanes. Since it appears the Donnelly study couldn't resolve time periods down to a year, let alone seasons, it would seem logical that some sediments were the result of non-tropical storms. I didn't see that topic addressed specifically in the study.


Try writing the author for a study copy. He may oblige you. David J. Mallinson

Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA

Corresponding author. Link


mallinsond@ecu.edu
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84. barbamz

Your a good egg, a sharp eye, and we all learn from you , I for one , want to say thanks.
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Quoting Naga5000:

This is why Bob was used:

"3.12 Event Attribution

The most recently deposited coarse-grained event bed (#1) occurs at about 10 cm depth and based on our age model dates to between 1982 and 2005 CE at 95% confidence (Fig. 2b, c;Supplementary Fig. 6). This event bed was likely deposited by Hurricane Bob in 1991 CE, the only category 2 or greater storm since 1851 CE [Landsea et al., 2004] to pass within 100 km to the west of Falmouth (Supplementary Fig. 4). Hurricane Bob passed about 60 km west of Salt Pond (Fig. 1b) with maximum sustained winds of 45 m/s, causing a storm tide ~1.6 m
above MHW in Falmouth [Boldt et al. , 2010] and maximum offshore wave heights of approximately 4 meters [Cheung et al., 2007]. Washover fans across the western portion of the barrier fronting Salt Pond evident in aerial photographs taken immediately following Hurricane Bob indicate overtopping by the combination of surge and wave runup (Supplementary Fig. 7). Historically, severe winter storms and tropical cyclones that either pass offshore or make landfall to the east have failed to produce storm tides capable of overtopping the barrier fronting Salt Pond (see supplemental material) [Boldt et al., 2010]. Conversely, hurricanes that made landfall further west than Bob in the middle part of the 20th century (e.g., 1938, 1944 CE) produced storm tides capable of overtopping the Salt Pond barrier [Boldt et al., 2010], yet these events did not leave coarse event bed in Salt Pond"

Bob is a great control storm to use for dating and landfall locations.
I read that. What it tells me is that the criteria for this study was analogs of Bob, even though the deposition from Carol and 1938 were clearly visible and labeled as such in the core sample picture. If a storm didn't overwash into the pond, did it not show up in the deposited material? The 1938 hurricane, the most intense storm since 1635, passed within about 180 km west of Salt Pond, but that just wasn't close enough? One of the things I was trained to do was to look at baselines chosen for studies and see if they were the best ones in terms of the hypothesis. This all may be perfectly clear to a paleotempestologist, but it seems odd that you'd not choose the only real cat 3 hurricane that hit west of Salt Pond as your marker and use Bob instead.
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84. barbamz

Your a good egg, a sharp eye, and we all learn from you , I for one , want to say thanks.
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From the BBC:

Stop jumping from windows into snow, Boston mayor says

excerpt:

""This isn't Loon Mountain, this is the city of Boston," Mr Walsh said."
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Dr. Rood has post up on uncertainty , and this event in Northern Argentina is text book example , I don't think anyone in Cordoba saw this coming , (32cm (12.6in) fell in the space of 12 hours).

As these events go, it's a not steady one inch an hour thing , there is period in them when it rains so hard you find it hard to breath , because all the air has been displaced by rain drops. This burst makes the flood.

This rain in Northern Argentina is same thing powering the snows in Boston, the oceans are giving up their heat .

Anyone who doubts that , has no idea of the water cycle we live with.
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Quoting 68. sar2401:

I decided I wasn't going to plop down $35.95 for that one either, especially since a Happy Meal is a big deal for me now. :-) The abstract did get me thinking about about some of the huge Nor'easters we've had just since I've been around and how you go about distinguishing them from cat 2 plus hurricanes. Since it appears the Donnelly study couldn't resolve time periods down to a year, let alone seasons, it would seem logical that some sediments were the result of non-tropical storms. I didn't see that topic addressed specifically in the study.

See post#83 - extratropical storms were addressed.
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather