Historical accounts of the drought and hurricane season of 1860


Spatial patterns of the drought and hurricane tracks were reconstructed for 1860. These reveal a typical La Niña pattern over the conterminous United States that would be analogous to an active Atlantic hurricane season. Precipitation frequency for April through October 1860 was calculated for the conterminous United States from 252 instrumental stations and transformed into percentiles relative to the modern record. These data were supplemented with instrumental and documentary accounts from diarists, newspapers, and ship logbooks, which allow for the rigorous reconstruction and reanalysis of the drought and hurricane season and their impacts on society. Widespread deficits in precipitation were observed in 1860 across a large portion of the central and southern Plains and the southeastern US. A total of nine tropical cyclones were detected in this new analysis, and up to three of those nine were previously unknown. The drought parched many crops from Plains into the southeastern US, but the landfall of three hurricanes within 120 km of New Orleans, Louisiana brought beneficial rainfall to the southeastern US. However, this rainfall came too late in the growing season for crops to recover, and also came with an intense storm surge, inland flooding, and wind damage. Synoptic-scale patterns indicate that high pressure systems centered over the central Plains and northeastern Gulf of Mexico steered the three land-falling US hurricanes into Louisiana and Mississippi. © 2009 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Publication Title

Historical Climate Variability and Impacts in North America