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Storm Precipitation in the United States. Part I: Meteorological Characteristics

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  • a Midwestern Regional Climate Center, Atmospheric Environment Section, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, Illinois
  • | b Atmospheric Environment Section, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, Illinois
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Abstract

Climate studies of precipitation have generally focused on daily or longer time scales of precipitation accumulation. The main objective of this work was to identify the precipitation characteristics of storms based on 15-min precipitation data, including storm total precipitation, storm duration, mean storm intensity, and maximum 15-min intensity. A group of precipitation characteristics was subjected to a cluster analysis that identified nine regions of the conterminous United States with homogeneous seasonal cycles of mean storm precipitation characteristics. Both mean and extreme statistics were derived for each characteristic and season for each zone. Continuous probability density functions were generated that appropriately fit the empirical distributions of storm total precipitation and maximum 15-min intensity. The storm characteristics, in turn, were a function of seasonal water availability from source regions, atmospheric water vapor capacity, and storm precipitation mechanism. This is the first time that such an extensive climatology of storm precipitation characteristics has been produced. A preliminary trend analysis of the 1972–2002 storm characteristic data by zone showed substantial changes that tended to be geographically coherent, with noteworthy differences between the western and eastern United States. The western United States displayed a trend toward decreasing storm total precipitation and storm duration in most seasons, while storm intensity increased. The eastern United States experienced a general pattern of increasing storm total precipitation and storm duration during winter, as well as a tendency for maximum 15-min precipitation intensity to increase.

Corresponding author address: Michael A. Palecki, Midwestern Regional Climate Center, Illinois State Water Survey, 2204 Griffith Drive, Champaign, IL 61820. palecki@uiuc.edu

Abstract

Climate studies of precipitation have generally focused on daily or longer time scales of precipitation accumulation. The main objective of this work was to identify the precipitation characteristics of storms based on 15-min precipitation data, including storm total precipitation, storm duration, mean storm intensity, and maximum 15-min intensity. A group of precipitation characteristics was subjected to a cluster analysis that identified nine regions of the conterminous United States with homogeneous seasonal cycles of mean storm precipitation characteristics. Both mean and extreme statistics were derived for each characteristic and season for each zone. Continuous probability density functions were generated that appropriately fit the empirical distributions of storm total precipitation and maximum 15-min intensity. The storm characteristics, in turn, were a function of seasonal water availability from source regions, atmospheric water vapor capacity, and storm precipitation mechanism. This is the first time that such an extensive climatology of storm precipitation characteristics has been produced. A preliminary trend analysis of the 1972–2002 storm characteristic data by zone showed substantial changes that tended to be geographically coherent, with noteworthy differences between the western and eastern United States. The western United States displayed a trend toward decreasing storm total precipitation and storm duration in most seasons, while storm intensity increased. The eastern United States experienced a general pattern of increasing storm total precipitation and storm duration during winter, as well as a tendency for maximum 15-min precipitation intensity to increase.

Corresponding author address: Michael A. Palecki, Midwestern Regional Climate Center, Illinois State Water Survey, 2204 Griffith Drive, Champaign, IL 61820. palecki@uiuc.edu

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