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Climatological Analyses of Thunderstorms and Flash Floods in the Baltimore Metropolitan Region

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

The climatology of thunderstorms and flash floods in the Baltimore, Maryland, metropolitan region is examined through analyses of cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning observations from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and discharge observations from 11 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauging stations. A point process framework is used for analyses of CG lightning strikes and the occurrences of flash floods. Analyses of lightning strikes as a space–time point process focus on the mean intensity function, from which the seasonal, diurnal, and spatial variation in mean lightning frequency are examined. Important elements of the spatial variation of mean lightning frequency are 1) initiation of thunderstorms along the Blue Ridge, 2) large variability of lightning frequency around the urban cores of Baltimore and Washington D.C., and 3) decreased lightning frequency over the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Lightning frequency has a sharp seasonal maximum around mid-July, and the diurnal cycle of lightning frequency peaks between 2100 and 2200 UTC with a frequency that is more than an order of magnitude larger than the minimum frequency at 1200 UTC. The seasonal and diurnal variation of flash flood occurrence in urban streams of Baltimore mimics the seasonal and diurnal variation of lightning. The peak of the diurnal frequency of flash floods in Moores Run, a 9.1-km2 urban watershed in Baltimore City, occurs at 2200 UTC. Analyses of the lightning and flood peak data also show a close link between the occurrence of major thunderstorms systems and flash flooding on a regional scale.

Corresponding author address: James A. Smith, Princeton University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton, NJ 08544. Email: jsmith@princeton.edu

Abstract

The climatology of thunderstorms and flash floods in the Baltimore, Maryland, metropolitan region is examined through analyses of cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning observations from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and discharge observations from 11 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauging stations. A point process framework is used for analyses of CG lightning strikes and the occurrences of flash floods. Analyses of lightning strikes as a space–time point process focus on the mean intensity function, from which the seasonal, diurnal, and spatial variation in mean lightning frequency are examined. Important elements of the spatial variation of mean lightning frequency are 1) initiation of thunderstorms along the Blue Ridge, 2) large variability of lightning frequency around the urban cores of Baltimore and Washington D.C., and 3) decreased lightning frequency over the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Lightning frequency has a sharp seasonal maximum around mid-July, and the diurnal cycle of lightning frequency peaks between 2100 and 2200 UTC with a frequency that is more than an order of magnitude larger than the minimum frequency at 1200 UTC. The seasonal and diurnal variation of flash flood occurrence in urban streams of Baltimore mimics the seasonal and diurnal variation of lightning. The peak of the diurnal frequency of flash floods in Moores Run, a 9.1-km2 urban watershed in Baltimore City, occurs at 2200 UTC. Analyses of the lightning and flood peak data also show a close link between the occurrence of major thunderstorms systems and flash flooding on a regional scale.

Corresponding author address: James A. Smith, Princeton University, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton, NJ 08544. Email: jsmith@princeton.edu

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