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Stephen M. Jessup and Stephen J. Colucci

Abstract

Heavy precipitation and flash flooding have been extensively studied in the central United States, but less so in the Northeast. This study examines 187 warm-season flash flood events identified in Storm Data to better understand the structure of the precipitation systems that cause flash flooding in the Northeast. Based on the organization and movement of these systems on radar, the events are classified into one of four categories—back-building, linear, multiple, and other/size—and then further classified into subtypes for each category. Eight of these subtypes were not previously recognized in the literature. The back-building events were the most common, followed by the multiple, other/size, and linear types. The linear event types appear to produce flash flooding less commonly in the Northeast than in other regions. In general, the subtypes producing the highest precipitation estimates are those whose structures are most conducive to a long duration of sustained moderate to heavy rainfall. The event types were found to differ from those in the central United States in that the events were more often found to be more disorganized in the Northeast. One event type in particular, back-building with merging features, while not more disorganized than the previously recognized event types, offers promise for improved forecasting because its radar signature makes the duration of sustained heavy precipitation potentially easier to predict.

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Stephen M. Jessup and Arthur T. DeGaetano

Abstract

Flash floods reported for the forecast area of the National Weather Service Forecast Office at Binghamton, New York (BGM), are compared with similar significant precipitation and flash flood watch events not corresponding to flash flood reports. These event types are characterized by measures of surface hydrological conditions, surface and upper-air variables, thermodynamic properties, and proxies for synoptic-scale features. Flash flood and nonflood events are compared quantitatively via discriminant analysis and cross validation, and qualitatively via scatterplots and composite soundings. Results are presented in the context of a flash flood checklist used at BGM prior to this study. Flash floods and nonfloods are found to differ most significantly in antecedent soil moisture. The wind direction at 850 hPa shows differences between flood and nonflood events, with flooding more common for an easterly to southeasterly direction and nonflooding more common for a northwesterly direction. Southwesterly wind direction is characteristic of both types. In general, nonflooding significant precipitation events are more commonly associated with a better-defined ridge axis of relatively high 850-hPa equivalent potential temperature and larger convective available potential energy as compared to the flash flood events. Several parameters included on the BGM flash flood checklist, though effective at distinguishing significant precipitation events and flash floods from random events, were found to be unable to separate flash floods from nonflooding significant rain events.

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Long Yang, James A. Smith, Mary Lynn Baeck, Elie Bou-Zeid, Stephen M. Jessup, Fuqiang Tian, and Heping Hu

Abstract

In this study, observational and numerical modeling analyses based on the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) are used to investigate the impact of urbanization on heavy rainfall over the Milwaukee–Lake Michigan region. The authors examine urban modification of rainfall for a storm system with continental-scale moisture transport, strong large-scale forcing, and extreme rainfall over a large area of the upper Midwest of the United States. WRF simulations were carried out to examine the sensitivity of the rainfall distribution in and around the urban area to different urban land surface model representations and urban land-use scenarios. Simulation results suggest that urbanization plays an important role in precipitation distribution, even in settings characterized by strong large-scale forcing. For the Milwaukee–Lake Michigan region, the thermodynamic perturbations produced by urbanization on the temperature and surface pressure fields enhance the intrusion of the lake breeze and facilitate the formation of a convergence zone, which create favorable conditions for deep convection over the city. Analyses of model and observed vertical profiles of reflectivity using contoured frequency by altitude displays (CFADs) suggest that cloud dynamics over the city do not change significantly with urbanization. Simulation results also suggest that the large-scale rainfall pattern is not sensitive to different urban representations in the model. Both urban representations, the Noah land surface model with urban land categories and the single-layer urban canopy model, adequately capture the dominant features of this storm over the urban region.

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