Extreme Daily Rainfall in Central-Southern Chile and Its Relationship with Low-Level Horizontal Water Vapor Fluxes

Raúl A. Valenzuela Department of Geophysics, Center for Climate and Resilience Research, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile

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René D. Garreaud Department of Geophysics, Center for Climate and Resilience Research, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile

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Abstract

Extreme rainfall events are thought to be one of the major threats of climate change given an increase of water vapor available in the atmosphere. However, before projecting future changes in extreme rainfall events, it is mandatory to know current patterns. In this study we explore extreme daily rainfall events along central-southern Chile with emphasis in their spatial distribution and concurrent synoptic-scale circulation. Surface rain gauges and reanalysis products from the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis are employed to unravel the dependency between extreme rainfall and horizontal water vapor fluxes. Results indicate that extreme rainfall events can occur everywhere, from the subtropical to extratropical latitudes, but their frequency increases where terrain has higher altitude, especially over the Andes Mountains. The majority of these events concentrate in austral winter, last a single day, and encompass a north–south band of about 200 km in length. Composited synoptic analyses identified extreme rainfall cases dominated by northwesterly (NW) and westerly (W) moisture fluxes. Some features of the NW group include a 300-hPa trough projecting from the extratropics to subtropics, a surface-level depression, and cyclonic winds at 850 hPa along the coast associated with integrated water vapor (IWV) > 30 mm. Conversely, features in the W group include both a very weak 300-hPa trough and surface depression, as well as coastal westerly winds associated with IWV > 30 mm. About half of extreme daily rainfall is associated with an atmospheric river. Extreme rainfall observed in W (NW) cases has a strong orographic (synoptic) forcing. In addition, W cases are, on average, warmer than NW cases, leading to an amplified hydrological response.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-19-0036.s1.

© 2019 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: Raúl A. Valenzuela, rvalenzuela@dgf.uchile.cl

Abstract

Extreme rainfall events are thought to be one of the major threats of climate change given an increase of water vapor available in the atmosphere. However, before projecting future changes in extreme rainfall events, it is mandatory to know current patterns. In this study we explore extreme daily rainfall events along central-southern Chile with emphasis in their spatial distribution and concurrent synoptic-scale circulation. Surface rain gauges and reanalysis products from the Climate Forecast System Reanalysis are employed to unravel the dependency between extreme rainfall and horizontal water vapor fluxes. Results indicate that extreme rainfall events can occur everywhere, from the subtropical to extratropical latitudes, but their frequency increases where terrain has higher altitude, especially over the Andes Mountains. The majority of these events concentrate in austral winter, last a single day, and encompass a north–south band of about 200 km in length. Composited synoptic analyses identified extreme rainfall cases dominated by northwesterly (NW) and westerly (W) moisture fluxes. Some features of the NW group include a 300-hPa trough projecting from the extratropics to subtropics, a surface-level depression, and cyclonic winds at 850 hPa along the coast associated with integrated water vapor (IWV) > 30 mm. Conversely, features in the W group include both a very weak 300-hPa trough and surface depression, as well as coastal westerly winds associated with IWV > 30 mm. About half of extreme daily rainfall is associated with an atmospheric river. Extreme rainfall observed in W (NW) cases has a strong orographic (synoptic) forcing. In addition, W cases are, on average, warmer than NW cases, leading to an amplified hydrological response.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-19-0036.s1.

© 2019 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: Raúl A. Valenzuela, rvalenzuela@dgf.uchile.cl

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