Reconstruction of Prehistoric Landfall Frequencies of Catastrophic Hurricanes in Northwestern Florida from Lake Sediment Records

by Kam-biu Liu & Miriam L. Fearn, September 2000,  in QuaternaryResearch

Sediment cores from Western Lake provide a 7000-yr record of coastal environmental changes and catastrophic hurricane landfalls along the Gulf Coast of the Florida Panhandle. Using Hurricane Opal as a modern analog, we infer that overwash sand layers occurring near the center of the lake were caused by catastrophic hurricanes of category 4 or 5 intensity. Few catastrophic hurricanes struck the Western Lake area during two quiescent periods 3400–5000 and 0–1000 14C yr B.P. The landfall probabilities increased dramatically to ca. 0.5% per yr during an “hyperactive” period from 1000–3400 14C yr B.P., especially in the first millennium A.D. The millennial-scale variability in catastrophic hurricane landfalls along the Gulf Coast is probably controlled by shifts in the position of the jet stream and the Bermuda High.