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Erin Dougherty and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

Floods are one of the deadliest weather-related natural disasters in the continental United States (CONUS). Given that rainfall intensity and the amount of CONUS population exposed to floods is expected to increase in the future, it is critical to understand flood characteristics across the CONUS. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to develop a flood-producing storm climatology over the CONUS from 2002 to 2013 to better understand rainfall characteristics of these storms and spatiotemporal differences across the country. Flood reports from the NCEI Storm Events Database are grouped by causative meteorological event and are merged with a database of stream-gauge-indicated floods to provide a robust indication of significant hydrologic events with a meteorological linkage. High-resolution Stage IV rainfall data were matched to 5559 flood episodes across the CONUS to identify rainfall characteristics of flood-producing storms in a variety of environments. This storm climatology indicates that flash flood–producing storms frequently occur with high rainfall accumulations in the summer east of the Rockies. Slow-rise flood-producing storms frequently occur in the spring–early summer (winter), with high rainfall accumulations over the northern and central CONUS (Pacific Northwest) due to rain-on-snowmelt, synoptic systems, and mesoscale convective systems (atmospheric rivers). Hybrid flood-producing storms, sharing characteristics of flash and slow-rise floods, frequently occur in spring–summer and have high rainfall accumulations in the central CONUS, Northeast, and mid-Atlantic. Results from this climatology may provide useful for emergency managers, city planners, and policy makers seeking efforts to protect their communities against risks associated with flood-producing storms.

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Erin Dougherty and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

Flash floods are high-impact events that can result in massive destruction, such as the May 2010 flash floods in the south-central United States that resulted in over $2 billion of damage. While floods in the current climate are already destructive, future flood risk is projected to increase based on work using global climate models. However, global climate models struggle to resolve precipitation structure, intensity, and duration, which motivated the use of convection-permitting climate models that more accurately depict these precipitation processes on a regional scale due to explicit representation of convection. These high-resolution convection-permitting simulations have been used to examine future changes to rainfall, but not explicitly floods. This study aims to fill this gap by examining future changes to rainfall characteristics and runoff in flash flood–producing storms over the United States using convection-permitting models under a pseudo–global warming framework. Flash flood accumulated rainfall increases on average by 21% over the United States in a future climate. Storm-generated runoff increases by 50% on average, suggesting increased runoff efficiency in future flash flood–producing storms. In addition to changes in nonmeteorological factors, which were not explored in this study, increased future runoff is possible due to the 7.5% K−1 increase in future hourly maximum rain rates. Though this median change in rain rates is consistent with Clausius–Clapeyron theory, some storms exhibit increased future rain rates well above this, likely associated with storm dynamics. Overall, results suggest that U.S. cities might need to prepare for more intense flash flood–producing storms in a future climate.

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Erin Dougherty and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

The Mississippi River Basin (MRB) is a flash flood hotspot receiving the most frequent flash floods and highest average rainfall accumulation of any region in the United States. Given the destruction flash floods cause in the current climate in the MRB, it is critical to understand how they will change in a future, warmer climate in order to prepare for these impacts. Recent work utilizing convection-permitting climate simulations to analyze future precipitation changes in flash flood-producing storms in the United States shows that the MRB experiences the greatest future increase in flash flood rainfall. This result motivates the goal of the present study to better understand the changes to precipitation characteristics and vertical velocity in flash flood-producing storms in the MRB. Specifically, the variations in flash flood-producing storm characteristics related to changes in vertical velocity in the MRB are examined by identifying 484 historical flash flood-producing storms from 2002–2013 and studying how they change in a future climate using 4-km convection-permitting simulations under a pseudo-global warming framework. In a future climate, precipitation and runoff increase by 17% and 32%, respectively, in flash flood-producing storms in the MRB. While rainfall increases in all flash flood-producing storms due to similar increases in moisture, it increases the most in storms with the strongest vertical velocity, suggesting that storm dynamics might modulate future changes in rainfall. These results are necessary to predict and prepare for the multifaceted impacts of climate change on flash flood-producing storms in order to create more resilient communities.

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Erin Dougherty, Erin Sherman, and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

California receives much of its precipitation from cool-season atmospheric rivers, which contribute to water resources and flooding. In winter 2017, a large number of atmospheric rivers caused anomalous winter precipitation, near-saturated soils, and a partial melting of snowpack, which led to excessive runoff that damaged the emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam. Given the positive and negative impacts ARs have in California, it is necessary to understand how they will change in a future climate. While prior studies have examined future changes in the frequency of atmospheric rivers impacting the West Coast of the United States, these studies primarily use coarse global climate models that are unable to resolve the complex terrain of this region. Such a limitation is overcome by using a high-resolution convection-permitting regional climate model, which resolves complex topography and orographic rainfall processes that are the main drivers of heavy precipitation in landfalling atmospheric rivers. This high-resolution model is used to examine changes to precipitation and runoff in California’s cool season from 2002 to 2013, particularly in flood-producing storms associated with atmospheric rivers, in a future, warmer climate using a pseudo–global warming approach. In 45 flood-producing storms, precipitation and runoff increase by 21%–26% and 15%–34%, respectively, while SWE decreases by 32%–90%, with the greatest changes at mid-elevations. These trends are consistent with future precipitation changes during the entire cool season. Results suggest more intense floods and less snowpack available for water resources in the future, which should be carefully considered in California’s future water management plans.

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Kristen L. Rasmussen and Robert A. Houze Jr.

Flash floods on the edge of high terrain, such as the Himalayas or Rocky Mountains, are especially dangerous and hard to predict. The Leh flood of 2010 at the edge of the Himalayan Plateau in India is an example of the tragic consequences of such storms. The flood occurred over a high mountain river valley when, on three successive days, diurnally generated convective cells over the Tibetan Plateau gathered into mesoscale convective systems and moved off the edge of the Plateau over Leh. An easterly midlevel jet associated with a midlevel monsoon vortex over northern India and a high over Asia helped the convection organize into propagating mesoscale systems that moved over the edge of the Plateau. On the third day the mesoscale system moving off the plateau was greatly invigorated when it suddenly drew on moisture flowing upslope over the terrain. It gained maximum strength from this intake of moisture near Leh, and the heavy rains washed over the surrounding mountains and down and over the town.

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Kristen L. Rasmussen and Robert A. Houze Jr.

Abstract

Extreme orogenic convective storms in southeastern South America are divided into three categories: storms with deep convective cores, storms with wide convective cores, and storms containing broad stratiform regions. Data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite’s Precipitation Radar show that storms with wide convective cores are the most frequent, tending to originate near the Sierra de Cordoba range. Downslope flow at upper levels caps a nocturnally enhanced low-level jet, thus preventing convection from breaking out until the jet hits a steep slope of terrain, such as the Sierra de Cordoba Mountains or Andean foothills, so that the moist low-level air is lifted enough to release the instability and overcome the cap. This capping and triggering is similar to the way intense convection is released near the northwestern Himalayas. However, the intense storms with wide convective cores over southeastern South America are unlike their Himalayan counterparts in that they exhibit leading-line/trailing-stratiform organization and are influenced by baroclinic troughs more similar to storms east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. Comparison of South American storms containing wide convective cores with storms in other parts of the world contributes to a global understanding of how major mountain ranges influence precipitating cloud systems.

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David J. Bodine and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

This study examines organizational changes and periods of rapid forward propagation in an MCS on 6 July 2015 in South Dakota. The MCS case was the focus of a Plains Elevated Convection at Night (PECAN) IOP. Data from the Sioux Falls WSR-88D and a high-resolution WRF simulation are analyzed to examine two periods of rapid forward propagation (or surges) and organizational changes. During the first surge (surge A), the northern portion of the convective line propagates eastward faster than the southern portion, and the northern portion of the leading line transitions from a single convective core to a multicellular structure as it merges with convection initiation. Radar reflectivity factor Z and graupel concentrations decrease above the melting layer, while at lower altitudes Z increases. The MCS cold pool also intensifies and deepens beneath an expanded region of high rainwater content and subsaturated air. Throughout surge A, a mesoscale circulation with strong rear-to-front near-surface flow and front-to-rear midlevel flow is also evident. By the end of surge A, the leading edge of the MCS cold pool is beneath developing convection initiation ahead of the original convective line while the original convective updraft weakened and moved rearward. This MCS evolution is similar to discrete propagation events discussed in past studies, except with new convection developing along an intersecting convective band. During surge B, the MCS transitions from a multicellular structure to a single, intense updraft. Smaller microphysical and thermodynamic changes are observed within the MCS during surge B compared to surge A, and the mesoscale circulation continues to develop.

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Zachary S. Bruick, Kristen L. Rasmussen, and Daniel J. Cecil

Abstract

Hailstorms in subtropical South America are known to be some of the most frequent anywhere in the world, causing significant damage to the local agricultural economy every year. Convection in this region tends to be orographically forced, with moisture supplied from the Amazon rain forest by the South American low-level jet. Previous climatologies of hailstorms in this region have been limited to localized and sparse observational networks. Because of the lack of sufficient ground-based radar coverage, objective radar-derived hail climatologies have also not been produced for this region. As a result, this study uses a 16-yr dataset of TRMM Precipitation Radar and Microwave Imager observations to identify possible hailstorms remotely, using 37-GHz brightness temperature as a hail proxy. By combining satellite instruments and ERA-Interim reanalysis data, this study produces the first objective study of hailstorms in this region. Hailstorms in subtropical South America have an extended diurnal cycle, often occurring in the overnight hours. In addition, they tend to be multicellular in nature, rather than discrete. High-probability hailstorms (≥50% probability of containing hail) tend to be deeper by 1–2 km and horizontally larger by greater than 15 000 km2 than storms having a low probability of containing hail (<25% probability of containing hail). Hailstorms are supported synoptically by strong upper- and lower-level jets, anomalously warm and moist low levels, and enhanced instability. The findings of this study will support the forecasting of these severe storms and mitigation of their damage within this region.

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Jiao Chen, Aiguo Dai, Yaocun Zhang, and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

Atmospheric convective available potential energy (CAPE) is expected to increase under greenhouse gas–induced global warming, but a recent regional study also suggests enhanced convective inhibition (CIN) over land although its cause is not well understood. In this study, a global climate model is first evaluated by comparing its CAPE and CIN with reanalysis data, and then their future changes and the underlying causes are examined. The climate model reasonably captures the present-day CAPE and CIN patterns seen in the reanalysis, and projects increased CAPE almost everywhere and stronger CIN over most land under global warming. Over land, the cases or times with medium to strong CAPE or CIN would increase while cases with weak CAPE or CIN would decrease, leading to an overall strengthening in their mean values. These projected changes are confirmed by convection-permitting 4-km model simulations over the United States. The CAPE increase results mainly from increased low-level specific humidity, which leads to more latent heating and buoyancy for a lifted parcel above the level of free convection (LFC) and also a higher level of neutral buoyancy. The enhanced CIN over most land results mainly from reduced low-level relative humidity (RH), which leads to a higher lifting condensation level and a higher LFC and thus more negative buoyancy. Over tropical oceans, the near-surface RH increases slightly, leading to slight weakening of CIN. Over the subtropical eastern Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, the impact of reduced low-level atmospheric lapse rates overshadows the effect of increased specific humidity, leading to decreased CAPE.

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Maximiliano Viale, Robert A. Houze Jr., and Kristen L. Rasmussen

Abstract

Upstream orographic enhancement of the rainfall from an extratropical cyclone approaching the Andes from the Pacific is investigated using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Precipitation Radar. The main precipitation from the cyclone over central and coastal Chile fell when a narrow cold-frontal rainband (NCFR) interacted with a midlevel layer cloud deck formed from the orographically induced ascent of the prefrontal “atmospheric river” upstream of the Andes. Model output indicates that low-level convergence enhanced the NCFR where it met low-level blocked flow near the mountains. The NCFR had stronger updrafts with decreasing distance from the mountains, and the NCFR produced larger rain accumulations over the land region upstream of the Andes than over the open ocean. A sensitivity simulation with a 50% reduction in the Andes topography, for comparison to various west coast mountain ranges of North America, demonstrates that the extreme height of the real mountain barrier strengthens frontogenesis and upstream blocking, which produces stronger frontal lifting and a slower progression of the frontal system. The model and the satellite data suggest that the larger precipitation rates upstream of the Andes resulted from a seeder–feeder effect connected with the orographically invigorated NCFR updrafts, when they penetrated the orographically enhanced midlevel stratiform clouds forming as a result of the upstream orographic ascent of the atmospheric river. The supercooled water of the NCFR updrafts formed a feeder zone for the snow particles in the midlevel stratiform cloud just upstream of the Andes.

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