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On the Meteorological Mechanisms Driving Postfire Flash Floods: A Case Study

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  • 1 School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
  • | 2 Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

This paper describes work to improve the understanding of the broad range of factors affecting the occurrence of postfire flooding, with emphasis on an event that occurred in the Alpine Shire, Victoria, Australia, in 2003. Analysis and mesoscale modeling of the conditions surrounding the event suggests that the drivers of the extreme rainfall event were above-average precipitable water in the atmosphere, significant values of CAPE, producing strong updrafts within the thunderstorm capable of supporting large quantities of suspended water droplets, and thunderstorm cell regeneration in the same area. However, atmospheric instability was further enhanced by anabatic breezes, above-average boundary layer moisture, and increased surface heating resulting from reduced surface albedo and soil moisture of the recently burned fire surface. Flash flooding resulted, due to 1) the storm cells likely being pulse wet microbursts, 2) cell regeneration over the same area (very little horizontal movement), and 3) the small catchment size. It is likely that a further contributor to the observed flash flood was the reduced infiltration often observed in recently burned catchments; these factors will be explored in a subsequent hydrologic study. It is intended that the mechanisms elucidated in this study will assist in emergency preparedness in the Alpine Shire. Given the warmer conditions expected with near-term anthropogenic climate change for the Alpine Shire, and the concomitant increase in fires, this causal relationship, even for a relatively rare event, has implications for emergency managers and Alpine Shire residents.

Corresponding author address: Lee Tryhorn, Regional Climate Group, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Building 11, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia. Email: lee.tryhorn@arts.monash.edu.au

Abstract

This paper describes work to improve the understanding of the broad range of factors affecting the occurrence of postfire flooding, with emphasis on an event that occurred in the Alpine Shire, Victoria, Australia, in 2003. Analysis and mesoscale modeling of the conditions surrounding the event suggests that the drivers of the extreme rainfall event were above-average precipitable water in the atmosphere, significant values of CAPE, producing strong updrafts within the thunderstorm capable of supporting large quantities of suspended water droplets, and thunderstorm cell regeneration in the same area. However, atmospheric instability was further enhanced by anabatic breezes, above-average boundary layer moisture, and increased surface heating resulting from reduced surface albedo and soil moisture of the recently burned fire surface. Flash flooding resulted, due to 1) the storm cells likely being pulse wet microbursts, 2) cell regeneration over the same area (very little horizontal movement), and 3) the small catchment size. It is likely that a further contributor to the observed flash flood was the reduced infiltration often observed in recently burned catchments; these factors will be explored in a subsequent hydrologic study. It is intended that the mechanisms elucidated in this study will assist in emergency preparedness in the Alpine Shire. Given the warmer conditions expected with near-term anthropogenic climate change for the Alpine Shire, and the concomitant increase in fires, this causal relationship, even for a relatively rare event, has implications for emergency managers and Alpine Shire residents.

Corresponding author address: Lee Tryhorn, Regional Climate Group, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Building 11, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia. Email: lee.tryhorn@arts.monash.edu.au

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