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James B. Elsner, Walter H. Drag, and Jeffrey K. Last


A flash flood occurred at Milwaukee, Wisconsin on 6 August 1986 as a result of >6 in. (15.2 cm) of rain, much of it falling over a 2-h period. Several possible contributing factors to the excessive rainfall are addressed, as well as a brief overview of the radar imagery and the local National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts issued during the event.

Conventional weather analyses and infrared satellite imagery are used to describe the synoptic-scale weather patterns and cloud features associated with the flash flood. The synoptic patterns are compared with a meteorological composite for heavy rain-producing weather systems associated with relatively warm-topped cloud signatures imbedded in comma-shaped cloud features, as described by Spayd (1982). This composite is referred to as a cyclonic circulation system (CCS). A comparison between the observed synoptic patterns and those predicted by the operational numerical model forecasts is also discussed. A climatological survey is performed to document the frequency of heavy rainfall events associated with weather systems similar to the CCS composite during seven warm seasons.

Results show that the synoptic weather patterns attending the Milwaukee flood were similar in many respects to the CCS composite. While the numerical models were deficient in accurately predicting rainfall amounts, they were more than adequate in forecasting some of the features of the CCS composite. The climatology shows that weather systems resembling the composite appear infrequently on a given day during the warm season. However, rainfall in excess of 5 in. (12.7 cm) occurred in a preferred location of nearly 60% of the cases in which these systems were identified.

This article lends support to the value of pattern recognition from satellite imagery, conventional weather analysis, and forecast model output to alert forecasters to the potential for heavy rainfall.

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Lance F. Bosart and, Alicia C. Wasula, Walter H. Drag, and Keith W. Meier


This paper begins with a review of basic surface frontogenesis concepts with an emphasis on fronts located over sloping terrain adjacent to mountain barriers and fronts located in large-scale baroclinic zones close to coastlines. The impact of cold-air damming and differential diabatic heating and cooling on frontogenesis is considered through two detailed case studies of intense surface fronts. The first case, from 17 to 18 April 2002, featured the westward passage of a cold (side-door) front across coastal eastern New England in which 15°–20°C temperature decreases were observed in less than one hour. The second case, from 28 February to 4 March 1972, featured a long-lived front that affected most of the United States from the Rockies to the Atlantic coast and was noteworthy for a 50°C temperature contrast between Kansas and southern Manitoba, Canada.

In the April 2002 case most of New England was initially covered by an unusually warm, dry air mass. Dynamical anticyclogenesis over eastern Canada set the stage for a favorable pressure gradient to allow chilly marine air to approach coastal New England from the east. Diabatic cooling over the chilly (5°–8°C) waters of the Gulf of Maine allowed surface pressures to remain relatively high offshore while diabatic heating over the land (31°–33°C temperatures) enabled surface pressures to fall relative to over the ocean. The resulting higher pressures offshore resulted in an onshore cold push. Frontal intensity was likely enhanced prior to leaf out and grass green-up as virtually all of the available insolation went into sensible heating.

The large-scale environment in the February–March 1972 case favored the accumulation of bitterly cold arctic air in Canada. Frontal formation occurred over northern Montana and North Dakota as the arctic air moved slowly southward in conjunction with surface pressure rises east of the Canadian Rockies. The arctic air accelerated southward subsequent to lee cyclogenesis–induced pressure falls ahead of an upstream trough that crossed the Rockies. The southward acceleration of the arctic air was also facilitated by dynamic anticyclogenesis in southern Canada beneath a poleward jet-entrance region. Frontal intensity varied diurnally in response to differential diabatic heating. Three types of cyclogenesis events were observed over the lifetime of the event: 1) low-amplitude frontal waves with no upper-level support, 2) low-amplitude frontal waves that formed in a jet-entrance region, and 3) cyclones that formed ahead of advancing upper-level troughs. All cyclones were either nondeveloping or weak developments despite extreme baroclinicity, likely the result of large atmospheric static stability in the arctic frontal zone and unfavorable alongfront stretching deformation. Significant frontal–mountain interactions were observed over the Rockies and the Appalachians.

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