How intense were they? - A sampling study on how recent Category 5 hurricanes would be depicted in the historical record

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 8:30 AM
B216 (GWCC)
Christopher W. Landsea, NOAA/NWS/TPC/NHC, Miami, FL; and C. Carrasco and A. B. Hagen

A recent study has indicated that there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale Category 5 (maximum 1 min 10 m winds of at least 136 kt [70 m/s]) hurricanes in the Atlantic basin (the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico) during the last two decades. This conclusion is based upon the official tropical cyclone database maintained and updated annually at the National Hurricane Center. However, such a study does not account for changes to either the observational capabilities or analysis methods at NHC.

The presentation to be given examines the ten most recent Category 5 hurricanes from 1992's Hurricane Andrew to 2007's Hurricane Felix. They are put into the context of how observations were taken going back in time, all the way to the beginning of the database in 1851. For example, today our key intensity observing tools are from aircraft reconnaissance and geostationary satellite measurements. Before World War II, hurricane intensity was monitored (quite incompletely) only by coastal weather stations and by unfortunate ships that blundered into the storms. These ten hurricanes are then re-analyzed with regards to their intensity record to determine how strong they would have been recorded (both peak intensity and at times of landfall). The results, shown for each of the ten Category 5 hurricanes decade-by-decade, may provide some insight into how observational capabilities impact the ability to record extreme hurricanes in the existing Atlantic basin hurricane database.