, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 1463-1472
Date: 14 Jan 2012

Meteorological factors affecting the speed of movement and related impacts of extratropical cyclones along the U.S. east coast

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The speeds of historical cool-season extratropical cyclones along the U.S. east coast, hereafter East Coast Winter Storms (ECWS), occurring during the period from 1951 to 2006 were computed. Average storm speed was 13.8 ms−1 with stronger storms generally moving faster than weaker storms and faster storms forming during the midwinter months (December–March). There was no clear trend in ECWS speed during the time period, although considerable season-to-season variability was present. The monthly and seasonal variations in storm speed could not be attributed to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation or North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) alone. However, the speed of ECWS was considerably slower when both El Niño and the negative phase of NAO occurred simultaneously. Characteristic patterns in the upper levels of the atmosphere, specifically 300 hPa zonal winds and 500 hPa geopotential heights, were present during periods when ECWS speeds were among the slowest (and separately fastest). For slow storm speed, these patterns also prevailed during months in which El Niño and negative NAO phase occurred. These patterns were also present during months with extended runs of high oceanic storm surge. This provides a qualitative link between the atmospheric conditions associated with slow storms and potentially high coastal storm surge impacts. Among the prime consequences of ECWS speed are extended periods of high storm surge, mainly due to slow-moving storms. The sustained high tidal levels often lead to substantial damage caused by coastal flooding, overwash, and beach erosion.