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Gabriele Villarini, Radoslaw Goska, James A. Smith, and Gabriel A. Vecchi

Riverine flooding associated with North Atlantic tropical cyclones (TCs) is responsible for large societal and economic impacts. The effects of TC flooding are not limited to the coastal regions, but affect large areas away from the coast, and often away from the center of the storm. Despite these important repercussions, inland TC flooding has received relatively little attention in the scientific literature, although there has been growing media attention following Hurricanes Irene (2011) and Sandy (2012). Based on discharge data from 1981 to 2011, the authors provide a climatological view of inland flooding associated with TCs, leveraging the wealth of discharge measurements collected, archived, and disseminated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Florida and the eastern seaboard of the United States (from South Carolina to Maine and Vermont) are the areas that are the most susceptible to TC flooding, with typical TC flood peaks that are 2 to 6 times larger than the local 10-yr flood peak, causing major flooding. A secondary swath of extensive TC-induced flooding in the central United States is also identified. These results indicate that flooding from TCs is not solely a coastal phenomenon but affects much larger areas of the United States, as far inland as Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Moreover, the authors highlight the dependence of the frequency and magnitude of TC flood peaks on large-scale climate indices, and the role played by the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon (ENSO), suggesting potential sources of extended-range predictability.

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Witold F. Krajewski, Daniel Ceynar, Ibrahim Demir, Radoslaw Goska, Anton Kruger, Carmen Langel, Ricardo Mantilla, James Niemeier, Felipe Quintero, Bong-Chul Seo, Scott J. Small, Larry J. Weber, and Nathan C. Young

Abstract

The Iowa Flood Center (IFC), established following the 2008 record floods, has developed a real-time flood forecasting and information dissemination system for use by all Iowans. The system complements the operational forecasting issued by the National Weather Service, is based on sound scientific principles of flood genesis and spatial organization, and includes many technological advances. At its core is a continuous rainfall–runoff model based on landscape decomposition into hillslopes and channel links. Rainfall conversion to runoff is modeled through soil moisture accounting at hillslopes. Channel routing is based on a nonlinear representation of water velocity that considers the discharge amount as well as the upstream drainage area. Mathematically, the model represents a large system of ordinary differential equations organized to follow river network topology. The IFC also developed an efficient numerical solver suitable for high-performance computing architecture. The solver allows the IFC to update forecasts every 15 min for over 1,000 Iowa communities. The input to the system comes from a radar-rainfall algorithm, developed in-house, that maps rainfall every 5 min with high spatial resolution. The algorithm uses Level II radar reflectivity and other polarimetric data from the Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Dual-Polarimetric (WSR-88DP) radar network. A large library of flood inundation maps and real-time river stage data from over 200 IFC “stream-stage sensors” complement the IFC information system. The system communicates all this information to the general public through a comprehensive browser-based and interactive platform. Streamflow forecasts and observations from Iowa can provide support for a similar system being developed at the National Water Center through model intercomparisons, diagnostic analyses, and product evaluations.

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