Extreme Rainfall from Landfalling Tropical Cyclones in the Eastern United States: Hurricane Irene (2011)

Maofeng Liu Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

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James A. Smith Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

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Abstract

Hurricane Irene produced catastrophic rainfall and flooding in portions of the eastern United States from 27 to 29 August 2011. Like a number of tropical cyclones that have produced extreme flooding in the northeastern United States, Hurricane Irene was undergoing extratropical transition during the period of most intense rainfall. In this study the rainfall distribution of landfalling tropical cyclones is examined, principally through analyses of radar rainfall fields and high-resolution simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. In addition to extratropical transition, the changing storm environment at landfall and orographic precipitation mechanisms can be important players in controlling the distribution of extreme rainfall. Rainfall distribution from landfalling tropical cyclones is examined from a Lagrangian perspective, focusing on times of landfall and extratropical transition, as well as interactions of the storm circulation with mountainous terrain. WRF simulations capture important features of rainfall distribution, including the pronounced change in rainfall distribution during extratropical transition. Synoptic-scale analyses show that a deep baroclinic zone developed and strengthened in the left-front quadrant of Irene, controlling rainfall distribution over the regions experiencing most severe flooding. Numerical experiments were performed with WRF to examine the role of mountainous terrain in altering rainfall distribution. Analyses of Hurricane Irene are placed in a larger context through analyses of Hurricane Hannah (2008) and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

Corresponding author address: Maofeng Liu, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, E208 Equad, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail: maofeng@princeton.edu

Abstract

Hurricane Irene produced catastrophic rainfall and flooding in portions of the eastern United States from 27 to 29 August 2011. Like a number of tropical cyclones that have produced extreme flooding in the northeastern United States, Hurricane Irene was undergoing extratropical transition during the period of most intense rainfall. In this study the rainfall distribution of landfalling tropical cyclones is examined, principally through analyses of radar rainfall fields and high-resolution simulations using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. In addition to extratropical transition, the changing storm environment at landfall and orographic precipitation mechanisms can be important players in controlling the distribution of extreme rainfall. Rainfall distribution from landfalling tropical cyclones is examined from a Lagrangian perspective, focusing on times of landfall and extratropical transition, as well as interactions of the storm circulation with mountainous terrain. WRF simulations capture important features of rainfall distribution, including the pronounced change in rainfall distribution during extratropical transition. Synoptic-scale analyses show that a deep baroclinic zone developed and strengthened in the left-front quadrant of Irene, controlling rainfall distribution over the regions experiencing most severe flooding. Numerical experiments were performed with WRF to examine the role of mountainous terrain in altering rainfall distribution. Analyses of Hurricane Irene are placed in a larger context through analyses of Hurricane Hannah (2008) and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

Corresponding author address: Maofeng Liu, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, E208 Equad, Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail: maofeng@princeton.edu
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