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Uncovering Prehistoric Hurricane Activity

Examination of the geological record reveals some surprising long-term trends

Kam-biu Liu

Figure 3. Sediment cores in coastal lakes and Rodanthe, NCClick to Enlarge Image

Category-1 hurricanes strike sufficiently often that one can estimate their frequency by consulting the historical record. But large, truly catastrophic hurricanes (Category 4 or 5) take place so seldom that meteorologists cannot accurately gauge the likelihood that such a storm will occur in any particular spot. One way around this difficulty is to examine the geological record for evidence of these devastating tropical storms. The author and his colleagues have done so using sediment cores extracted from coastal lakes at various places in the United States. Examination of this material shows that the last millennium has been a relatively quiet time for the Gulf coast and an especially active period for the Northeast. Paleotempestologists are also examining other forms of evidence as well in an effort to chart ancient storm activity for sites throughout the world.

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