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West Coast 'Hurricanes': A 300-Year History of Severe Pacific Northwest Windstorms

Hurricane-force winds are frequently allied with mid-latitude cyclones yet little is known about their historical timing and geographic extent over multiple centuries. This research addresses these issues by extending the historical record of major mid-latitude windstorms along North America’s Pacific Northwest (PNW) coast using tree-ring data collected from old-growth (>350 yrs.), wind-snapped trees sampled at seven coastal sites in Oregon, USA. Our objectives were to: 1) characterize historical windstorm regimes; 2) determine the relationship between high-wind events (HWEs) and phases of the PDO, ENSO and NPI; and 3) test the hypothesis that PNW HWEs have migrated northward. We based our study on the identification of treegrowth anomalies resulting from windstorm-induced canopy changes corresponding to documented (1880–2003) and projected HWEs (1701–1880). Our methods identified all major windstorm events recorded since the late 1800s and confirmed that variations in coastal treegrowth are weakly related to temperature, precipitation, and drought, but are significantly related to peak wind speeds. These results suggest wind-induced changes in canopy conditions control tree growth at all sites. Comparisons between the tree-ring record and the PDO, NPI, and ENSO revealed a significant positive correlation between HWEs and neutral to warm PDO conditions and a slightly weaker correlation with the NPI. ENSO events were not significantly related to the occurrence of HWEs. Latitudinal groupings of our sites revealed a gradual and nonsignificant northerly shift of HWEs until the late 19th century followed by a significant northward shift during the past 120 years. These results mark the application of dendroanemology as a method for characterizing windstorm regimes for multiple centuries.

Friday March 14, 2014 04:00 PM
Friday March 14, 2014 05:00 PM
Student Building 150
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