Investigation of the Statistics of Wave Heights

by R. C. Goodknight,
T. L. Russell,

Serial Information: Journal of the Waterways and Harbors Division, 1963, Vol. 89, Issue 2, Pg. 29-54

Document Type: Journal Paper


An investigation was made to test the hypothesis that the heights of ocean waves generated by a moving storm can be described by a Rayleigh distribution. Although chi-squared tests do not substantiate this hypothesis, the assumption of a Rayleigh distribution to describe wave heights yields results in several areas of practical importance that agree with measured data. The results are from studies of wave-height data measured in the Gulf of Mexico during two hurricanes and two tropical storms. The Rayleigh distribution appears to be justified for practical use by forecasters to calculate certain statistical parameters such as the ratio between the average of the highest 1/n waves (H1/n) or the highest wave in a group of N waves (Hmax) and the average wave height (Havg) or the root mean square wave height (Hrms). This conclusion agrees with the results of other investigators who studied data gathered under different and, in general, less severe oceanographic conditions.

Subject Headings: Ocean waves | Wave height | Statistics | Hurricanes and typhoons | Parameters (statistics) | Wave groups | Wave generation | Storms | Gulf of Mexico

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