Characteristics of U.S. Extreme Rain Events during 1999–2003

Russ S. Schumacher Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Richard H. Johnson Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

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Abstract

This study examines the characteristics of a large number of extreme rain events over the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Over a 5-yr period, 184 events are identified where the 24-h precipitation total at one or more stations exceeds the 50-yr recurrence amount for that location. Over the entire region of study, these events are most common in July. In the northern United States, extreme rain events are confined almost exclusively to the warm season; in the southern part of the country, these events are distributed more evenly throughout the year. National composite radar reflectivity data are used to classify each event as a mesoscale convective system (MCS), a synoptic system, or a tropical system, and then to classify the MCS and synoptic events into subclassifications based on their organizational structures. This analysis shows that 66% of all the events and 74% of the warm-season events are associated with MCSs; nearly all of the cool-season events are caused by storms with strong synoptic forcing. Similarly, nearly all of the extreme rain events in the northern part of the country are caused by MCSs; synoptic and tropical systems play a larger role in the South and East. MCS-related events are found to most commonly begin at around 1800 local standard time (LST), produce their peak rainfall between 2100 and 2300 LST, and dissipate or move out of the affected area by 0300 LST.

Corresponding author address: Russ Schumacher, Dept. of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Email: rschumac@atmos.colostate.edu

Abstract

This study examines the characteristics of a large number of extreme rain events over the eastern two-thirds of the United States. Over a 5-yr period, 184 events are identified where the 24-h precipitation total at one or more stations exceeds the 50-yr recurrence amount for that location. Over the entire region of study, these events are most common in July. In the northern United States, extreme rain events are confined almost exclusively to the warm season; in the southern part of the country, these events are distributed more evenly throughout the year. National composite radar reflectivity data are used to classify each event as a mesoscale convective system (MCS), a synoptic system, or a tropical system, and then to classify the MCS and synoptic events into subclassifications based on their organizational structures. This analysis shows that 66% of all the events and 74% of the warm-season events are associated with MCSs; nearly all of the cool-season events are caused by storms with strong synoptic forcing. Similarly, nearly all of the extreme rain events in the northern part of the country are caused by MCSs; synoptic and tropical systems play a larger role in the South and East. MCS-related events are found to most commonly begin at around 1800 local standard time (LST), produce their peak rainfall between 2100 and 2300 LST, and dissipate or move out of the affected area by 0300 LST.

Corresponding author address: Russ Schumacher, Dept. of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523. Email: rschumac@atmos.colostate.edu

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