Physical Processes Associated with Heavy Flooding Rainfall in Nashville, Tennessee, and Vicinity during 1–2 May 2010: The Role of an Atmospheric River and Mesoscale Convective Systems

Benjamin J. Moore Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, and NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado

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Paul J. Neiman NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division, Boulder, Colorado

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F. Martin Ralph NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory/Physical Sciences Division, Boulder, Colorado

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Faye E. Barthold I. M. Systems Group, Inc., and NOAA/Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, Camp Springs, Maryland

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Abstract

A multiscale analysis is conducted in order to examine the physical processes that resulted in prolonged heavy rainfall and devastating flash flooding across western and central Tennessee and Kentucky on 1–2 May 2010, during which Nashville, Tennessee, received 344.7 mm of rainfall and incurred 11 flood-related fatalities. On the synoptic scale, heavy rainfall was supported by a persistent corridor of strong water vapor transport rooted in the tropics that was manifested as an atmospheric river (AR). This AR developed as water vapor was extracted from the eastern tropical Pacific and the Caribbean Sea and transported into the central Mississippi Valley by a strong southerly low-level jet (LLJ) positioned between a stationary lee trough along the eastern Mexico coast and a broad, stationary subtropical ridge positioned over the southeastern United States and the subtropical Atlantic. The AR, associated with substantial water vapor content and moderate convective available potential energy, supported the successive development of two quasi-stationary mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) on 1 and 2 May, respectively. These MCSs were both linearly organized and exhibited back-building and echo-training, processes that afforded the repeated movement of convective cells over the same area of western and central Tennessee and Kentucky, resulting in a narrow band of rainfall totals of 200–400 mm. Mesoscale analyses reveal that the MCSs developed on the warm side of a slow-moving cold front and that the interaction between the southerly LLJ and convectively generated outflow boundaries was fundamental for generating convection.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online Web site: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/MWR-D-11-00126.s1.

Corresponding author address: Benjamin J. Moore, Physical Sciences Division, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Mail Code R/PSD2, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. E-mail: benjamin.moore@noaa.gov

Abstract

A multiscale analysis is conducted in order to examine the physical processes that resulted in prolonged heavy rainfall and devastating flash flooding across western and central Tennessee and Kentucky on 1–2 May 2010, during which Nashville, Tennessee, received 344.7 mm of rainfall and incurred 11 flood-related fatalities. On the synoptic scale, heavy rainfall was supported by a persistent corridor of strong water vapor transport rooted in the tropics that was manifested as an atmospheric river (AR). This AR developed as water vapor was extracted from the eastern tropical Pacific and the Caribbean Sea and transported into the central Mississippi Valley by a strong southerly low-level jet (LLJ) positioned between a stationary lee trough along the eastern Mexico coast and a broad, stationary subtropical ridge positioned over the southeastern United States and the subtropical Atlantic. The AR, associated with substantial water vapor content and moderate convective available potential energy, supported the successive development of two quasi-stationary mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) on 1 and 2 May, respectively. These MCSs were both linearly organized and exhibited back-building and echo-training, processes that afforded the repeated movement of convective cells over the same area of western and central Tennessee and Kentucky, resulting in a narrow band of rainfall totals of 200–400 mm. Mesoscale analyses reveal that the MCSs developed on the warm side of a slow-moving cold front and that the interaction between the southerly LLJ and convectively generated outflow boundaries was fundamental for generating convection.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online Web site: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/MWR-D-11-00126.s1.

Corresponding author address: Benjamin J. Moore, Physical Sciences Division, NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Mail Code R/PSD2, 325 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305. E-mail: benjamin.moore@noaa.gov

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