The use of ships' protests for reconstruction of synoptic-scale weather and tropical storm identification in the late eighteenth century

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Weather, ISSN: 0043-1656, Vol: 63, Issue: 7, Page: 208-213

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Louis K. McNally III; Kirk Allen Maasch; Kimberley J. Zuill
Earth and Planetary Sciences; Earth Sciences
article description
Ships’ protests have been used for centuries as legal documents to record and detail damages and indemnify Captains from fault. We use them in this article, along with data extracted through forensic synoptic analysis (McNally, 1994, 2004) to identify a tropical or subtropical system in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1785. They are shown to be viable sources of meteorological information. By comparing a damaging storm in New England in 1996, which included an offshore tropical system, with one reconstructed in 1785, we demonstrate that the tropical system identified in a ship’s protest played a significant role in the 1785 storm. With both forensic reconstruction and anecdotal evidence, we are able to assess that these storms are remarkably identical. The recurrence rate calculated in previous studies of the 1996 storm is 400–500 years. We suggest that reconstruction of additional years in the 1700s would provide the basis for a reanalysis of recurrence rates, with implications for future insurance and reinsurance rates. The application of the methodology to this new data source can also be used for extension of the hurricane database in the North Atlantic basin, and elsewhere, much further back into history than is currently available.