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Qian Cao, Ali Mehran, F. Martin Ralph, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Abstract

A body of work over the last decade or so has demonstrated that most major floods along the U.S. West Coast are attributable to atmospheric rivers (ARs). Recent studies suggest that observed changes in extreme precipitation associated with a general warming of the western United States have not necessarily led to corresponding changes in floods, and changes in antecedent hydrological conditions could be a primary missing link. Here we examine the role of antecedent soil moisture (ASM) conditions on historical AR flooding on California’s Russian River basin, a coastal watershed whose winter precipitation extremes are dominated by ARs. We examined the effect of observed warming on ASM for the period 1950–2017. We first constructed an hourly precipitation product at 1/32° spatial resolution. We used the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM) to estimate storm total runoff volumes and soil moisture. We found that up to 95% of peaks-over-threshold (POT) extreme discharge events were associated with ARs. The storm runoff–precipitation ratio generally increased with wetter prestorm conditions, and the relationship was stronger as drainage area increased. We found no trends in extreme precipitation but weak downward trends in extreme discharge. The latter were mostly consistent with weak downward trends in the first 2-day storm precipitation. We found no trends in ASM; however, ASM was significantly correlated with peak flow. The ASM was affected more by antecedent precipitation than evapotranspiration, and hence temperature increases had weak effects on ASM.

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Shuwen Zhang, Bangjun Cao, Weidong Zhang, Qian Cao, Yuan Liu, and Chongjian Qiu

Abstract

Two approaches are proposed to introduce the surface energy storage into the cost function in a variational method for improving the estimates of surface turbulent heat fluxes. In the first approach, each of the energy storage terms is directly calculated based on available observations, and in the second approach, the total energy storage is fitted by the piecewise linear regression function. The heat flux estimates are validated with the eddy correlation (EC) measurements at two carefully selected stations with different land covers and weather conditions in northwestern China and east of the Tibetan Plateau, respectively. In contrast to the variational method without considering the energy storage in the cost function, two new approaches have improved the heat flux estimates, with the first approach being slightly better, especially around midday and/or under strong unstable conditions. It is also reasonable that the calculated/fitted energy storage with the measurements in the previous time period can be transferred for the heat flux estimates in the later time period. Furthermore, the heat flux estimates with both approaches are less sensitive to the errors in the profiles of temperature, humidity, and wind, as well as energy storage, so they may be more reliable.

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Qian Cao, Alexander Gershunov, Tamara Shulgina, F. Martin Ralph, Ning Sun, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Abstract

Precipitation extremes are projected to become more frequent along the U.S. West Coast due to increased atmospheric river (AR) activity, but the frequency of less intense precipitation events may decrease. Antecedent soil moisture (ASM) conditions can have a large impact on flood responses, especially if prestorm precipitation decreases. Taken together with increased antecedent evaporative demand due to warming, this would result in reduced soil moisture at the onset of extreme precipitation events. We examine the impact of ASM on AR-related floods in a warming climate in three basins that form a transect along the U.S. Pacific Coast: the Chehalis River basin in Washington, the Russian River basin in Northern California, and the Santa Margarita River basin in Southern California. We ran the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM) over the three river basins using forcings downscaled from 10 global climate models (GCMs). We examined the dynamic role of ASM by comparing the changes in the largest 50, 100, and 150 extreme events in two periods, 1951–2000 and 2050–99. In the Chehalis basin, the projected fraction of AR-related extreme discharge events slightly decreases. In the Russian basin, this fraction increases, however, and more substantially so in the Santa Margarita basin. This is due to increases in AR-related extreme precipitation events, as well as the fact that the relationship of extreme precipitation to extreme discharge is strengthened by projected increases in year-to-year volatility of annual precipitation in California, which increases the likelihood of concurrent occurrence of large storms and wet ASM conditions.

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Qian Cao, Thomas H. Painter, William Ryan Currier, Jessica D. Lundquist, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Abstract

To provide ground validation data for satellite precipitation products derived from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission, such as IMERG, in cold seasons and where orographic factors exert strong controls on precipitation, the Olympic Mountain Experiment (OLYMPEX) was conducted during winter 2015/16. By utilizing multiple observational resources from OLYMPEX, estimates of daily and finer-scale precipitation are constructed at 1/32° spatial resolution over the OLYMPEX domain. The estimates are based on NOAA WSR-88D and gauge estimates as incorporated in NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) Q3GC product, augmented with an additional 120 gauges available during OLYMPEX. Few stations are located in the interior of the Olympic Peninsula at elevations higher than about 500 m, and in this part of the domain the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrology model is used to invert the snow water equivalent (SWE) estimates, derived from two NASA JPL Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) snow depth maps on 8–9 February 2016 and 29–30 March 2016, for precipitation through adjustment of the precipitation-weighting factor on a grid cell by grid cell basis. In comparison with this composite product, both IMERG (version 04A) and its Japanese counterpart GSMaP’s (version 04B) satellite-only products tend to underestimate winter precipitation, by 41% and 28%, respectively, over the entire domain from 1 October 2015 to 30 April 2016. The underestimation is more pronounced for the orographically enhanced mountainous interior of the OLYMPEX domain, by 57% and 48%, respectively. In contrast, IMERG and GSMaP storm interarrival time statistics are quite similar to those estimated from gridded observations.

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Qian Cao, Shraddhanand Shukla, Michael J. DeFlorio, F. Martin Ralph, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are responsible for up to 90% of major flood events along the U.S. West Coast. The time scale of subseasonal forecasting (from 2 weeks to 1 month) is a critical lead time for proactive mitigation of flood disasters. The NOAA Climate Testbed Subseasonal Experiment (SubX) is a research-to-operations project with almost immediate availability of forecasts. It has produced a reforecast database that facilitates evaluation of flood forecasts at these subseasonal lead times. Here, we examine the SubX-driven forecast skill of AR-related flooding out to 4-week lead using the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model (DHSVM), with particular attention to the role of antecedent soil moisture (ASM), which modulates the relationship between meteorological and hydrological forecast skill. We study three watersheds along a transect of the U.S. West Coast: the Chehalis River basin in Washington, the Russian River basin in Northern California, and the Santa Margarita River basin in Southern California. We find that the SubX-driven flood forecast skill drops quickly after week 1, during which there is relatively high deterministic forecast skill. We find some probabilistic forecast skill relative to climatology as well as ensemble streamflow prediction (ESP) in week 2, but minimal skill in weeks 3–4, especially for annual maximum floods, notwithstanding some probabilistic skill for smaller floods in week 3. Using ESP and reverse-ESP experiments to consider the relative influence of ASM and SubX reforecast skill, we find that ASM dominates probabilistic forecast skill only for small flood events at week 1, while SubX reforecast skill dominates for large flood events at all lead times.

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Lu Su, Qian Cao, Mu Xiao, David M. Mocko, Michael Barlage, Dongyue Li, Christa D. Peters-Lidard, and Dennis P. Lettenmaier

Abstract

We examine the drought variability over the conterminous United States (CONUS) for 1915–2018 using the Noah-MP land surface model. We examine different model options on drought reconstruction, including optional representation of groundwater and dynamic vegetation phenology. Over our 104-yr reconstruction period, we identify 12 great droughts that each covered at least 36% of CONUS and lasted for at least 5 months. The great droughts tend to have smaller areas when groundwater and/or dynamic vegetation are included in the model configuration. We detect a small decreasing trend in dry area coverage over CONUS in all configurations. We identify 45 major droughts in the baseline (with a dry area coverage greater than 23.6% of CONUS) that are, on average, somewhat less severe than great droughts. We find that representation of groundwater tends to increase drought duration for both great and major droughts, primarily by leading to earlier drought onset (some due to short-lived recovery from a previous drought) or later demise (groundwater anomalies lag precipitation anomalies). In contrast, representation of dynamic vegetation tends to shorten major droughts duration, primarily due to earlier drought demise (closed stoma or dead vegetation reduces ET loss during droughts). On a regional basis, the U.S. Southwest (Southeast) has the longest (shortest) major drought durations. Consistent with earlier work, dry area coverage in all subregions except the Southwest has decreased. The effects of groundwater and dynamic vegetation vary regionally due to differences in groundwater depths (hence connectivity with the surface) and vegetation types.

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Brian Henn, Qian Cao, Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Christopher S. Magirl, Clifford Mass, J. Brent Bower, Michael St. Laurent, Yixin Mao, and Sanja Perica

Abstract

The 22 March 2014 Oso landslide was one of the deadliest in U.S. history, resulting in 43 fatalities and the destruction of more than 40 structures. We examine synoptic conditions, precipitation records, and soil moisture reconstructions in the days, months, and years preceding the landslide. Atmospheric reanalysis shows a period of enhanced moisture transport to the Pacific Northwest beginning on 11 February 2014. The 21–42-day periods prior to the landslide had anomalously high precipitation; we estimate that 300–400 mm of precipitation fell at Oso in the 21 days prior to the landslide. Relative only to historical periods ending on 22 March, the return periods of these precipitation accumulations are large (25–88 yr). However, relative to the largest accumulations from any time of the year (annual maxima), return periods are more modest (2–6 yr). In addition to the 21–42 days prior to the landslide, there is a secondary maximum in the precipitation return periods for the 4 yr preceding the landslide. Reconstructed soil moisture was also anomalously high prior to the landslide, with return periods relative to the particular day that exceeded 40 yr about a week before the event.

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