Winter wave climate, storms and regional cycles: the SW Spanish Atlantic coast


Correspondence to: N. Rangel-Buitrago, Departamento de Ciencias de la Tierra, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar y Ambientales, Universidad de Cádiz, Polígono Río San pedro s/n, 11510 Puerto Real, Cádiz, Spain. E-mail:


Climatic change-related impacts on coastal areas became an important issue in past decades and nowadays threaten many human settlements and activities. Coastal hazards are linked to flooding and erosion processes associated with sea level rise and the increased strength of hurricanes, cyclones and storms. The main aim of this work is the characterization of coastal storms in Cadiz (SW Spain) and the determination of their recurrence intervals and relationships with several regional cycles. Storm characterization was carried out using the Storm Power Index (Dolan and Davis, 1992) and five classes were obtained, from class I (weak events) to V (extreme events). Storm occurrence probability was 96% for class I (i.e. almost one event per year) to 3% for class V. The return period for class V was 25 years and ranged from 6 to 8 years for classes III and IV storms, e.g. significant and severe events. Classes I and II showed a period of recurrence ranging from 1 to 3 years. Stormy winter seasons were 2009/10 (12 events), 1995/6 and 2002/3 (with 10 events each) and 1993/4 (8 events). Approximately 40% of the change in monthly wave data and storminess indices was related to several teleconnection patterns, the most important drivers of change being the Arctic Oscillation (AO), 21.45%, and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), 19.65%. It is interesting to note that a great number of storms, larger storm duration and higher values of Storm Power Index were only observed when neutral to strong negative NAO and AO phases occurred at the same time (89 storms and 3355 h) and/or when there was an abrupt change of NAO and AO phases, i.e. they moved from a positive to negative phase without passing through a neutral phase. The results obtained in this work have wider applications for ocean and coastal management. It is suggested that methodology used can be easily applied in different areas where wave buoy data are available. In the same way, information obtained with this kind of work constitutes the first step in the development of coastal protection plans to preserve socio-economic activities from the impact of severe storm events.