On the Interaction Between a Hurricane, the Gulf Stream and Coastal Sea Level

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Ocean Dynamics






Tropical storms and hurricanes in the western North Atlantic Ocean can impact the US East Coast in several ways. Direct effects include storm surges, winds, waves, and precipitation and indirect effects include changes in ocean dynamics that consequently impact the coast. Hurricane Matthew [October, 2016] was chosen as a case study to demonstrate the interaction between an offshore storm, the Gulf Stream (GS) and coastal sea level. A regional numerical ocean model was used, to conduct sensitivity experiments with different surface forcing, using wind and heat flux data from an operational hurricane-ocean coupled forecast system. An additional experiment used the observed Florida Current (FC) transport during the hurricane as an inflow boundary condition. The experiments show that the hurricane caused a disruption in the GS flow that resulted in large spatial variations in temperatures with cooling of up to ~ 4 °C by surface heat loss, but the interaction of the winds with the GS flow also caused some local warming near fronts and eddies (relative to simulations without a hurricane). A considerable weakening of the FC transport (~ 30%) has been observed during the hurricane (a reduction of~ 10 Sv in 3 days; 1Sv = 106 m3 s−1), so the impact of the FC was explored by the model. Unlike the abrupt and large wind-driven storm surge (up to 2 m water level change within 12 h in the South Atlantic Bight), the impact of the weakening GS on sea level is smaller but lasted for several days after the hurricane dissipated, as seen in both the model and altimeter data. These results can explain observations that show minor tidal flooding along long stretches of coasts for several days following passages of hurricanes. Further analysis showed the short-term impact of the hurricane winds on kinetic energy versus the long-term impact of the hurricane-induced mixing on potential energy, whereas several days are needed to reestablish the stratification and rebuild the strength of the GS to its pre-hurricane conditions. Understanding the interaction between storms, the Gulf Stream and coastal sea level can help to improve prediction of sea level rise and coastal flooding.

Original Publication Citation

Ezer, T. (2018). On the interaction between a hurricane, the Gulf Stream and coastal sea level. Ocean Dynamics, 68,1259–1272. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10236-018-1193-1


0000-0002-2018-6071 (Ezer)


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