Historians track hurricanes back to 1700s

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In the days before satellite imaging, wind speed gauges and The Weather Channel, hurricane tracking was the province of plantation owners and ship captains. Plantation diaries and Royal Navy ship logs, along with newspaper clippings and history books, are proving valuable to researchers looking to create a history of Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast hurricanes that goes back as far as the American Revolution.

A comprehensive, historical database could shed more light on the Atlantic weather cycle that leads to periods of active hurricane seasons such as the one many coastal communities are experiencing now. It is also important to have the historical data so communities won't assume they are immune from being hit by multiple strong storms in short periods of time, said Cary Mock, a University of South Carolina weather researcher.

For example, South Carolina could be hit by two major hurricanes in one year, the New Orleans area could be hit by six strong storms in a decade and a hurricane could strike New York City.

"If it happened in the past, something like that can definitely happen in the future,'' Mock said.

The National Hurricane Center's official hurricane database goes back to 1850, but Mock has a three-year National Science Foundation grant to identify land-falling storms from New England to the Caribbean dating before the 19th century.

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