Response of Storm-Related Extreme Sea Level along the U.S. Atlantic Coast to Combined Weather and Climate Forcing


Storm surge and coastal flooding caused by tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and extratropical cyclones (nor’easters) pose a threat to communities along the Atlantic coast of the United States. Climate change and sea level rise are altering the statistics of these extreme events in a rather complex fashion. Here we use a fully coupled global weather/climate modeling system (GFDL CM4) to study characteristics of extreme daily sea level (ESL) along the U.S. Atlantic coast and their response to global warming. We find that under natural weather processes, the Gulf of Mexico coast is most vulnerable to storm surge and related ESL. New Orleans is a striking hotspot with the highest surge efficiency in response to storm winds. Under a 1% per year atmospheric CO2 increase on centennial time scales, the anthropogenic signal in ESL is robust along the U.S. East Coast. It can emerge from the background variability as soon as in 20 years, or even before global sea level rise is taken into account. The regional dynamic sea level rise induced by the weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation facilitates this early emergence, especially during wintertime coastal flooding associated with nor’easters. Along the Gulf Coast, ESL is sensitive to the modification of hurricane characteristics under the CO2 forcing.

J. Climate, 33 (9): 3745–3769
Laure Zanna
Laure Zanna
Professor of Mathematics & Atmosphere/Ocean Science [She/Her]

My research interests include Climate Dynamics, Physical Oceanography and Data Science.