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.