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Heavy Rainfall in Paraguay during the 2015/16 Austral Summer: Causes and Subseasonal-to-Seasonal Predictive Skill

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  • 1 Columbia Water Center, and Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Columbia University, New York, New York
  • 2 Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, and International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, New York
  • 3 International Research Institute for Climate and Society, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, Palisades, New York
  • 4 Dirección de Meteorología e Hidrología, Asunción, and Facultad Politécnica, Universidad Nacional de Asunción, San Lorenzo, Paraguay
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Abstract

During the austral summer 2015/16, severe flooding displaced over 170 000 people on the Paraguay River system in Paraguay, Argentina, and southern Brazil. These floods were driven by repeated heavy rainfall events in the lower Paraguay River basin. Alternating sequences of enhanced moisture inflow from the South American low-level jet and local convergence associated with baroclinic systems were conducive to mesoscale convective activity and enhanced precipitation. These circulation patterns were favored by cross-time-scale interactions of a very strong El Niño event, an unusually persistent Madden–Julian oscillation in phases 4 and 5, and the presence of a dipole SST anomaly in the central southern Atlantic Ocean. The simultaneous use of seasonal and subseasonal heavy rainfall predictions could have provided decision-makers with useful information about the start of these flooding events from two to four weeks in advance. Probabilistic seasonal forecasts available at the beginning of November successfully indicated heightened probability of heavy rainfall (90th percentile) over southern Paraguay and Brazil for December–February. Raw subseasonal forecasts of heavy rainfall exhibited limited skill at lead times beyond the first two predicted weeks, but a model output statistics approach involving principal component regression substantially improved the spatial distribution of skill for week 3 relative to other methods tested, including extended logistic regressions. A continuous monitoring of climate drivers impacting rainfall in the region, and the use of statistically corrected heavy precipitation seasonal and subseasonal forecasts, may help improve flood preparedness in this and other regions.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0805.s1.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: James Doss-Gollin, james.doss-gollin@columbia.edu

Abstract

During the austral summer 2015/16, severe flooding displaced over 170 000 people on the Paraguay River system in Paraguay, Argentina, and southern Brazil. These floods were driven by repeated heavy rainfall events in the lower Paraguay River basin. Alternating sequences of enhanced moisture inflow from the South American low-level jet and local convergence associated with baroclinic systems were conducive to mesoscale convective activity and enhanced precipitation. These circulation patterns were favored by cross-time-scale interactions of a very strong El Niño event, an unusually persistent Madden–Julian oscillation in phases 4 and 5, and the presence of a dipole SST anomaly in the central southern Atlantic Ocean. The simultaneous use of seasonal and subseasonal heavy rainfall predictions could have provided decision-makers with useful information about the start of these flooding events from two to four weeks in advance. Probabilistic seasonal forecasts available at the beginning of November successfully indicated heightened probability of heavy rainfall (90th percentile) over southern Paraguay and Brazil for December–February. Raw subseasonal forecasts of heavy rainfall exhibited limited skill at lead times beyond the first two predicted weeks, but a model output statistics approach involving principal component regression substantially improved the spatial distribution of skill for week 3 relative to other methods tested, including extended logistic regressions. A continuous monitoring of climate drivers impacting rainfall in the region, and the use of statistically corrected heavy precipitation seasonal and subseasonal forecasts, may help improve flood preparedness in this and other regions.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-17-0805.s1.

© 2018 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: James Doss-Gollin, james.doss-gollin@columbia.edu

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