Dettinger, M.D., 2013: “Atmospheric rivers as drought busters on the U.S. west coast.” Journal of Hydrometeorology, v. 14, pp. 1721–1732, doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-13-02.1.
Atmospheric rivers (ARs) have, in recent years, been recognized as the cause of the large majority of major floods in rivers all along the U.S. West Coast and as the source of 30%–50% of all precipitation in the same region. The present study surveys the frequency with which ARs have played a critical role as a common cause of the end of droughts on the West Coast. This question was based on the observation that, in most cases, droughts end abruptly as a result of the arrival of an especially wet month or, more exactly, a few very large storms. This observation is documented using both Palmer Drought Severity Index and 6-month Standardized Precipitation Index measures of drought occurrence for climate divisions across the conterminous United States from 1895 to 2010. When the individual storm sequences that contributed most to the wet months that broke historical West Coast droughts from 1950 to 2010 were evaluated, 33%–74% of droughts were broken by the arrival of landfalling AR storms. In the Pacific Northwest, 60%–74% of all persistent drought endings have been brought about by the arrival of AR storms. In California, about 33%–40% of all persistent drought endings have been brought about by landfalling AR storms, with more localized low pressure systems responsible for many of the remaining drought breaks.
Tani, M., 2013: “A paradigm shift in stormflow predictions for active tectonic regions with large-magnitude storms: generalisation of catchment observations by hydraulic sensitivity analysis and insight into soil-layer evolution.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, v. 17, pp. 4453-4470, doi: 10.5194/hess-17-4453-2013.
In active tectonic regions with large-magnitude storms, it is still difficult to predict stormflow responses by distributed runoff models from the catchment properties without a parameter calibration using observational data. This paper represents an attempt to address the problem. A review of observational studies showed that the stormflow generation mechanism was heterogeneous and complex, but stormflow responses there were simply simulated by a single tank with a drainage hole when the stormflow-contribution area was spatially invariable due to the sufficient amount of rainfall supply. These results suggested such a quick inflow/outflow waveform transmission was derived from the creation of a hydraulic continuum under a quasi-steady state. General conditions necessary for the continuum creation were theoretically examined by a sensitivity analysis for a sloping soil layer. A new similarity framework using the Richards equation was developed for specifying the sensitivities of waveform transmission to topographic and soil properties. The sensitivity analysis showed that saturation-excess overland flow was generally produced from a soil layer without any macropore effect, whereas the transmission was derived mainly from the vertical unsaturated flow instead of the downslope flow in a soil layer with a large drainage capacity originated from the macropore effect. Both were possible for the quick transmission, but a discussion on the soil-layer evolution process suggested that an inhibition of the overland flow due to a large drainage capacity played a key role, because a confinement of the water flow within the soil layer might be needed for the evolution against strong erosional forces in the geographical regions. The long history of its evolution may mediate a relationship between simple stormflow responses and complex catchment properties. As a result, an insight into this evolution process and an inductive evaluation of the dependences on catchment properties by comparative hydrology are highly encouraged to predict stormflow responses by distributed runoff models.
Villarini, G., and J.A. Smith, 2013: “Flooding in Texas: Examination of temporal changes and impacts of tropical cyclones.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 49, pp. 825-837, doi: 10.1111/jawr.12042.
Annual maximum peak discharge measurements from 62 stations with a record of at least 70 years are used to assess extreme flooding in Texas at the regional scale. This work focuses on examination of the validity of the stationarity assumption and on the impact of tropical cyclones (TCs) on the upper tail of the flood peak distribution. We assess the validity of the stationarity assumption by testing the records for abrupt and gradual changes. The presence of abrupt changes in the first two moments of the flood peak distribution is assessed using the Lombard test. We use the Mann-Kendall test to examine the presence of monotonic trends. Results indicate that violations of the stationarity assumption are most commonly caused by abrupt changes, which are often associated with river regulation. We fit the time series of stationary flood records with the generalized extreme value distribution to investigate whether TCs control the upper tail of the flood peak distribution. Our results indicate that TCs play a diminished role in shaping the upper tail of the flood peak distribution compared with areas of the eastern United States subject to frequent TCs.
Ilorme, F., and V.W. Griffis, 2013: “A novel procedure for delineation of hydrologically homogeneous regions and the classification of ungauged sites for design flood estimation.” Journal of Hydrology, v. 492, pp. 151-162, doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.03.045.
Regional flood frequency techniques are widely used to estimate flood quantiles when flow data is unavailable for the basin under study or the record length is insufficient for reliable analyses. Data from nearby gauged sites are pooled to compensate for the lack of at-site data. This requires the delineation of hydrologically homogeneous regions in which the flood regime is sufficiently similar to allow the spatial transfer of information. It is generally accepted that hydrologic similarity results from similarity among basins’ physiographic characteristics, and thus these characteristics can be used to delineate regions and classify ungauged sites. However, as currently practiced, the delineation is highly subjective and dependent on the similarity measures and classification techniques employed. Herein, a novel procedure for region delineation is proposed and evaluated using data for sites across the Southeastern United States. Key components of this procedure are a new statistical metric to identify physically discordant sites and a new methodology to identify the physical attributes that are the most indicative of extreme hydrologic response. The novel approach for region delineation is shown to produce regions which are more homogeneous and more efficient for quantile estimation at ungauged sites than those delineated using alternative physically-based procedures typically employed in practice. In addition, the identified physical attributes can be used to infer the flood regime and estimate quantiles at sites outside the extent of the area used for model development.
Schumann, G.J.-P., J.C. Neal, N. Voisin, K.M. Andreadis, F. Pappenberger, N. Phanthuwongpakdee, A.C. Hall, and P.D. Bates, 2013: “A first large scale flood inundation forecasting model.” Water Resources Research, v. 49, doi: 10.1002/wrcr.20521.
At present continental to global scale flood forecasting predicts at a point discharge, with little attention to detail and accuracy of local scale inundation predictions. Yet, inundation variables are of interest and all flood impacts are inherently local in nature. This paper proposes a large-scale flood inundation ensemble forecasting model that uses best available data and modeling approaches in data scarce areas. The model was built for the Lower Zambezi River to demonstrate current flood inundation forecasting capabilities in large data-scarce regions. ECMWF ensemble forecast (ENS) data were used to force the VIC (Variable Infiltration Capacity) hydrologic model, which simulated and routed daily flows to the input boundary locations of a 2-D hydrodynamic model. Efficient hydrodynamic modeling over large areas still requires model grid resolutions that are typically larger than the width of channels that play a key role in flood wave propagation. We therefore employed a novel subgrid channel scheme to describe the river network in detail while representing the floodplain at an appropriate scale. The modeling system was calibrated using channel water levels from satellite laser altimetry and then applied to predict the February 2007 Mozambique floods. Model evaluation showed that simulated flood edge cells were within a distance of between one and two model resolutions compared to an observed flood edge and inundation area agreement was on average 86%. Our study highlights that physically plausible parameter values and satisfactory performance can be achieved at spatial scales ranging from tens to several hundreds of thousands of km2 and at model grid resolutions up to several km2.
Trigg, M.A., K. Michaelides, J.C. Neal, and P.D. Bates, 2013: “Surface water connectivity dynamics of a large scale extreme flood.” Journal of Hydrology, doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.09.035.
During flood inundation, river water passes from the main channel into the floodplain through floodplain channels and diffusive overbank flow. This flood water is then distributed within the floodplain depending upon internal connections, barriers and storage, and finally returns back to the river through drainage connections. This surface water connectivity can be complex and is important to many aspects of floodplain functioning, including ecology, sediment movement and flood risk. However, there is currently no accepted way of quantifying this connectivity objectively. We quantify surface water connectivity geostatistically as an objectively measurable characteristic of an observed flood event using a time series of MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) surface water product for an extreme large scale flood event (11,000 km2 flooded area and 6 month duration) during 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand. We develop and apply a new gap filling method that better preserves the dynamic information of the event than simple aggregation methods. Comparison of MODIS results with the higher resolution Earth Observer 1 shows fundamental differences in the resolved connectivity with scale despite similar flooded area. The effect of the passage of the flood wave is directly observable in the river reach, as out-of-bank flooding progresses and increases connectivity along the river during rising water. Around peak flow, there is an increase in connectivity of the floodplain adjacent to the river as low lying areas fill. A step increase in connectivity is correlated with a major levee breach. During recession there is a rapid reduction in along river connectivity in the first week after the peak. This rapid reduction contrasted with a slow decrease in the floodplain connectivity as flooded depressions gradually drained reducing depth, while flood extent remained static for long periods. The connectivity analysis of the threshold in floodplain draining indicates that although spatial flood extent changes are small at this time, there is a reorganisation of the internal surface water connectivity within the flooded area. Thus through this measure of connectivity, we can see a clear structure to the event progression with new insights into flood dynamics that were not anticipated a priori.
Theiling, C.H., and J.T. Burant, 2013: “Flood inundation mapping for integrated floodplain management: Upper Mississippi River System.” River Research and Applications, v. 29, pp. 961-978, doi: 10.1002/rra.2583.
Natural hydrogeomorphic characteristics and hydrologic alterations are important ecological drivers, and hydrology is also a common ecological, flood control and navigation system indicator. Hydrologic characteristics change dramatically from one end of the Upper Mississippi River System to the other, and hydraulic characteristics also differ spatially across the river channels and floodplain in response to dams, levees and diversions. Low flow surface water spatial change in response to navigation and flood control has been well known for many years, but little information was available on the spatial distribution of frequent floods. The flow frequency data presented here were developed to better estimate contemporary floods after historic flooding in 1993. Flood stage estimates are enhanced in GIS to help quantify and map potential floodplain inundation for more than 1000 river miles on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Potential flood inundation is mapped for the 50% to 0.2% annual exceedance probability flood stage (i.e. 2- to 500-year expected recurrence interval flood) and also for alternative floodplain management scenarios within the existing flood protection infrastructure. Our analysis documents: (i) impoundment effects, (ii) a hydrologic gradient within the navigation pools that creates repeating patterns of riverine, backwater and impounded aquatic habitat conditions, (iii) potential floodplain inundation patterns for over 2 million acres and (iv) several integrated floodplain management scenarios. Extreme flood events are more common in recent decades, and they are expected to continue to occur at greater frequency in response to climate change. Floodplain managers can use the results presented here to help optimize land management and flood damage reduction on the Upper Mississippi River System.
Wang, S.-Y., R.E. Davies, and R.R. Gillies, 2013: “Identification of extreme precipitation threat across midlatitude regions based on short-wave circulations.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, v. 118, pp. 11,059-11,074, doi: 10.1002/jgrd.50841.
The most severe thunderstorms, producing extreme precipitation, occur over subtropical and midlatitude regions. Atmospheric conditions conducive to organized, intense thunderstorms commonly involve the coupling of a low-level jet (LLJ) with a synoptic short wave. The midlatitude synoptic activity is frequently modulated by the circumglobal teleconnection (CGT), in which meridional gradients of the jet stream act as a guide for short Rossby waves. Previous research has linked extreme precipitation events with either the CGT or the LLJ but has not linked the two circulation features together. In this study, a circulation-based index was developed by combining (a) the degree of the CGT and LLJ coupling, (b) the extent to which this CGT-LLJ coupling connects to regional precipitation and (c) the spatial correspondence with the CGT (short wave) trending pattern over the recent 32 years (1979–2010). Four modern-era global reanalyses, in conjunction with four gridded precipitation data sets, were utilized to minimize spurious trends. The results are suggestive of a link between the CGT/LLJ trends and several recent extreme precipitation events, including those leading to the 2008 Midwest flood in U.S., the 2011 tornado outbreaks in southeastern U.S., the 2010 Queensland flood in northeastern Australia, and to the opposite side the 2012 central U.S. drought. Moreover, an analysis of three Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 models from the historical experiments points to the role of greenhouse gases in forming the CGT trends during the warm season.
Catto, J.L., and S. Pfahl, 2013: “The importance of fronts for extreme precipitation.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, v. 118, pp. 10,791-10,801, doi: 10.1002/jgrd.50852.
Extratropical cyclones and their associated frontal systems are well known to be related to heavy precipitation events. Here an objective method is used to directly link extreme precipitation events with atmospheric fronts, identified using European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Interim Reanalysis data, to quantify the importance of fronts for precipitation extremes globally. In some parts of the major midlatitude storm track regions, over 90% of precipitation extremes are associated with fronts, with slightly more events associated with warm fronts than cold fronts. On average, 51% of global precipitation extremes are associated with fronts, with 75% in the midlatitudes and 31% in the tropics. A large proportion of extreme precipitation events occur in the presence of both a cyclone and a front, but remote fronts are responsible for many of the “front-only” events. The fronts producing extreme precipitation events are found to have up to 35% stronger frontal gradients than other fronts, potentially providing some improved forecasting capabilities for extreme precipitation events.
Rasmussen, K.L., and R.A. Houze, 2012: “A flash-flooding storm at the steep edge of high terrain: Disaster in the Himalayas.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v. 93, pp. 1713-1724, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-11-00236.1.
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.