Dynamical Structure of Extreme Floods in the U.S. Midwest and the United Kingdom

Nakamura, Jennifer A.; Lall, Upmanu; Kushnir, Yochanan; Robertson, Andrew W.; Seager, Richard

Twenty extreme spring floods that occurred in the Ohio basin between 1901 and 2008, identified from daily river discharge data, are investigated and compared to the April 2011 Ohio River flood event. Composites of synoptic fields for the flood events show that all of these floods are associated with a similar pattern of sustained advection of low-level moisture and warm air from the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The typical flow conditions are governed by an anomalous semistationary ridge, situated east of the U.S. East Coast, that steers the moisture and converges it into the Ohio River valley. Significantly, the moisture path common to all of the 20 cases studied here as well as the case of April 2011 is distinctly different from the normal path of Atlantic moisture during spring, which occurs farther west. It is shown further that the Ohio basin moisture convergence responsible for the floods is caused primarily by the atmospheric circulation anomaly advecting the climatological mean moisture field. Transport and related convergence due to the covariance between moisture anomalies and circulation anomalies are of secondary but nonnegligible importance. The importance of atmospheric circulation anomalies to floods is confirmed by conducting a similar analysis for a series of winter floods on the river Eden in northwest England.


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Also Published In

Journal of Hydrometeorology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
April 23, 2013