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  1. Abstract

    Storm direction modulates a hydrograph's magnitude and duration, thus having a potentially large effect on local flood risk. However, how changes in the preferential storm direction affect the probability distribution of peak flows remains unknown. We address this question with a novel Monte Carlo approach where stochastically transposed storms drive hydrologic simulations over medium and mesoscale watersheds in the Midwestern United States. Systematic rotations of these watersheds are used to emulate changes in the preferential storm direction. We found that the peak flow distribution impacts are scale‐dependent, with larger changes observed in the mesoscale watershed than in the medium‐scale watershed. We attribute this to the high diversity of storm patterns and the storms' scale relative to watershed size. This study highlights the potential of the proposed stochastic framework to address fundamental questions about hydrologic extremes when our ability to observe these events in nature is hindered by technical constraints and short time records.

  2. Abstract

    Estimating the probabilities of rare floods in mountainous watersheds is challenging due to the hydrometeorological complexity of seasonally varying snowmelt and soil moisture dynamics, as well as spatiotemporal variability in extreme precipitation. Design storm methods and statistical flood frequency analyses often overlook these complexities and how they shape the probabilities of rare floods. This study presents a process‐based approach that combines gridded precipitation, stochastic storm transposition (SST), and physics‐based distributed rainfall‐runoff modeling to simulate flood peak and volume distributions up to the 10,000‐year recurrence interval and to provide insights into the hydrometeorological drivers of those events. The approach is applied to a small mountainous watershed in the Colorado Front Range in the United States. We show that storm transposition in the Front Range can be justified under existing definitions of regional precipitation homogeneity. The process‐based results show close agreement with a statistically based mixture distribution that considers underlying flood drivers. We further demonstrate that antecedent conditions and snowmelt drive frequent peak discharges and rarer flood volumes, while the upper tail of the flood peak distribution appears to be controlled by heavy rainfall and rain‐on‐snow. In particular, we highlight the important role of early fall extreme rainfall in controlling raremore »flood peaks (but not volumes), despite only one such event having been observed in recent decades. Notwithstanding issues related to the accuracy of gridded precipitation datasets, these findings highlight the potential of SST and process‐based modeling to help understand the relationships between flood drivers and flood frequencies.

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  3. Abstract

    Computational advances have made atmospheric modeling at convection‐permitting (≤4 km) grid spacings increasingly feasible. These simulations hold great promise in the projection of climate change impacts including rainfall and flood extremes. The relatively short model runs that are currently feasible, however, inhibit the assessment of the upper tail of rainfall and flood quantiles using conventional statistical methods. Stochastic storm transposition (SST) and process‐based flood frequency analysis are two approaches that together can help to mitigate this limitation. SST generates large numbers of extreme rainfall scenarios by temporal resampling and geospatial transposition of rainfall fields from relatively short data sets. Coupling SST with process‐based flood frequency analysis enables exploration of flood behavior at a range of spatial and temporal scales. We apply these approaches with outputs of 13‐year simulations of regional climate to examine changes in extreme rainfall and flood quantiles up to the 500‐year recurrence interval in a medium‐sized watershed in the Midwestern United States. Intensification of extreme precipitation across a range of spatial and temporal scales is identified in future climate; changes in flood magnitudes depend on watershed area, with small watersheds exhibiting the greatest increases due to their limited capacity to attenuate flood peaks. Flood seasonality and snowmeltmore »are predicted to be earlier in the year under projected warming, while the most extreme floods continue to occur in early summer. Findings highlight both the potential and limitations of convection‐resolving climate models to help understand possible changes in rainfall and flood frequency across watershed scales.

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  4. Abstract

    Although prior studies have evaluated the role of sampling errors associated with local and regional methods to estimate peak flow quantiles, the investigation of epistemic errors is more difficult because the underlying properties of the random variable have been prescribed using ad‐hoc characterizations of the regional distributions of peak flows. This study addresses this challenge using representations of regional peak flow distributions derived from a combined framework of stochastic storm transposition, radar rainfall observations, and distributed hydrologic modeling. The authors evaluated four commonly used peak flow quantile estimation methods using synthetic peak flows at 5,000 sites in the Turkey River watershed in Iowa, USA. They first used at‐site flood frequency analysis using the Pearson Type III distribution with L‐moments. The authors then pooled regional information using (1) the index flood method, (2) the quantile regression technique, and (3) the parameter regression. This approach allowed quantification of error components stemming from epistemic assumptions, parameter estimation method, sample size, and, in the regional approaches, the number ofpooledsites. The results demonstrate that the inability to capture the spatial variability of the skewness of the peak flows dominates epistemic error for regional methods. We concluded that, in the study basin, this variability couldmore »be partially explained by river network structure and the predominant orientation of the watershed. The general approach used in this study is promising in that it brings new tools and sources of data to the study of the old hydrologic problem of flood frequency analysis.

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  5. Abstract. Conventional rainfall frequency analysis faces several limitations. These include difficulty incorporating relevant atmospheric variables beyond precipitation and limited ability to depict the frequency of rainfall over large areas that is relevant for flooding. This study proposes a storm-based model of extreme precipitation frequency based on the atmospheric water balance equation. We developed a storm tracking and regional characterization (STARCH) method to identify precipitation systems in space and time from hourly ERA5 precipitation fields over the contiguous United States from 1951 to 2020. Extreme “storm catalogs” were created by selecting annual maximum storms with specific areas and durations over a chosen region. The annual maximum storm precipitation was then modeled via multivariate distributions of atmospheric water balance components using vine copula models. We applied this approach to estimate precipitation average recurrence intervals for storm areas from 5000 to 100 000 km2 and durations from 2 to 72 h in the Mississippi Basin and its five major subbasins. The estimated precipitation distributions show a good fit to the reference data from the original storm catalogs and are close to the estimates from conventional univariate GEV distributions. Our approach explicitly represents the contributions of water balance components in extreme precipitation. Of these, water vapor flux convergencemore »is the main contributor, while precipitable water and a mass residual term can also be important, particularly for short durations and small storm footprints. We also found that ERA5 shows relatively good water balance closure for extreme storms, with a mass residual on average 10 % of precipitation. The approach can incorporate nonstationarities in water balance components and their dependence structures and can benefit from further advancements in reanalysis products and storm tracking techniques.« less
  6. Abstract. Floods are the product of complex interactions among processes includingprecipitation, soil moisture, and watershed morphology. Conventional floodfrequency analysis (FFA) methods such as design storms and discharge-basedstatistical methods offer few insights into these process interactions andhow they “shape” the probability distributions of floods. Understanding andprojecting flood frequency in conditions of nonstationary hydroclimate andland use require deeper understanding of these processes, some or all ofwhich may be changing in ways that will be undersampled in observationalrecords. This study presents an alternative “process-based” FFA approachthat uses stochastic storm transposition to generate large numbers ofrealistic rainstorm “scenarios” based on relatively short rainfall remotesensing records. Long-term continuous hydrologic model simulations are usedto derive seasonally varying distributions of watershed antecedentconditions. We couple rainstorm scenarios with seasonally appropriateantecedent conditions to simulate flood frequency. The methodology is appliedto the 4002 km2 Turkey River watershed in the Midwestern United States,which is undergoing significant climatic and hydrologic change. We show that,using only 15 years of rainfall records, our methodology can produce accurateestimates of “present-day” flood frequency. We found that shifts in theseasonality of soil moisture, snow, and extreme rainfall in the Turkey Riverexert important controls on flood frequency. We also demonstrate thatprocess-based techniques may be prone to errors due to inadequaterepresentationmore »of specific seasonal processes within hydrologic models. Ifsuch mistakes are avoided, however, process-based approaches can provide auseful pathway toward understanding current and future flood frequency innonstationary conditions and thus be valuable for supplementing existing FFApractices.« less