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Extreme Flood Response: The June 2008 Flooding in Iowa

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  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 2 IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
  • | 3 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 4 IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
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Abstract

The authors examine the hydroclimatology, hydrometeorology, and hydrology of extreme floods through analyses that center on the June 2008 flooding in Iowa. The most striking feature of the June 2008 flooding was the flood peak of the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids (3964 m3 s−1), which was almost twice the previous maximum from a record of 110 years. The spatial extent of extreme flooding was exceptional, with more U.S. Geological Survey stream gauging stations reporting record flood peaks than in any other year. The 2008 flooding was produced by a sequence of organized thunderstorm systems over a period of two weeks. The authors examine clustering and seasonality of flooding in the Iowa study region and link these properties to features of the June 2008 flood event. They examine the environment of heavy rainfall in Iowa during June 2008 through analyses of composite rainfall fields (15-min time interval and 1-km spatial resolution) developed with the Hydro-NEXRAD system and simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF). Water balance analyses of extreme flood response, based on rainfall and discharge observations from basins with extreme flooding, suggest that antecedent soil moisture plays a diminishing role in flood response as the return interval increases. Rainfall structure and evolution play a critical and poorly understood role in determining the scaling of flood response. As in other extreme flood studies, analyses of the Iowa flood data suggest that measurement errors can be significant for record discharge estimates.

Corresponding author address: James A. Smith, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Engineering Quadrangle, Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: jsmith@princeton.edu

Abstract

The authors examine the hydroclimatology, hydrometeorology, and hydrology of extreme floods through analyses that center on the June 2008 flooding in Iowa. The most striking feature of the June 2008 flooding was the flood peak of the Cedar River at Cedar Rapids (3964 m3 s−1), which was almost twice the previous maximum from a record of 110 years. The spatial extent of extreme flooding was exceptional, with more U.S. Geological Survey stream gauging stations reporting record flood peaks than in any other year. The 2008 flooding was produced by a sequence of organized thunderstorm systems over a period of two weeks. The authors examine clustering and seasonality of flooding in the Iowa study region and link these properties to features of the June 2008 flood event. They examine the environment of heavy rainfall in Iowa during June 2008 through analyses of composite rainfall fields (15-min time interval and 1-km spatial resolution) developed with the Hydro-NEXRAD system and simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF). Water balance analyses of extreme flood response, based on rainfall and discharge observations from basins with extreme flooding, suggest that antecedent soil moisture plays a diminishing role in flood response as the return interval increases. Rainfall structure and evolution play a critical and poorly understood role in determining the scaling of flood response. As in other extreme flood studies, analyses of the Iowa flood data suggest that measurement errors can be significant for record discharge estimates.

Corresponding author address: James A. Smith, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Engineering Quadrangle, Princeton, NJ 08540. E-mail: jsmith@princeton.edu
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