The regularity and severity of tropical storms are major determinants controlling ecosystem structure and succession for coastal ecosystems. Hurricane landfall rates vary greatly with high and low frequency for given coastal stretches of the southeastern United States. Site-specific meteorological data of hurricane wind speeds and direction, however, are only available for select populated cities of relatively sparse distribution and inland from the coast. A spatial simulation model of hurricane circulation, HURASIM, was applied to reconstruct chronologies of hurricane wind speeds and vectors for northern Gulf coast locations derived from historical tracking data of North Atlantic tropical storms dating back to 1851. Contrasts of storm frequencies showed that tropical storm incidence is nearly double for Florida coastal ecosystems than the westernmost stretches of Texas coastline. Finer-scale spatial simulations for the north-central Gulf coast exhibited sub-regional differences in storm strength and frequency with coastal position and latitude. The overall pattern of storm incidence in the Gulf basin indicates that the disturbance regime of coastal areas varies greatly along the coast, inland from the coast, and temporally over the period of record. Field and modeling studies of coastal ecosystems will benefit from this retrospective analysis of hurricane incidence and intensity both on a local or regional basis.
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Vol. 29 • No. 1