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Keywords:

  • hurricanes;
  • land cover change;
  • climate feedbacks

[1] Hurricanes can devastate thousands of hectares of forested area producing changes beyond simply vegetation damage and biomass loss. This study reports changes in regional climate associated with Hurricane Rita which made landfall on the Gulf Coastal Plain on September 24th, 2005. Results demonstrate that over severely disturbed forested areas, biogeophysical effects produced by Rita created anomalous precipitation patterns, with a decrease in precipitation the following winter, and an increase during the subsequent summer season. The dominant biogeophysical effect was a change in albedo caused by ∼14,000 km2 of disturbed forested area (downed and dead, snapped and structurally damaged trees) from Rita, equivalent to a committed carbon release of 32 to 43% of the net annual U.S. sink in forest trees. As recent studies project a likely increase in hurricane intensity during the 21st century, understanding the potential impact of forest damage from hurricanes on regional climate is important.