Precipitable Water Characteristics during the 2013 Colorado Flood using Ground-Based GPS Measurements

Other literature type English OPEN
Huelsing, Hannah K. ; Wang, Junhong ; Mears, Carl ; Braun, John J. (2017)

During 9<sup>th</sup>&ndash;16<sup>th</sup> September 2013, the Front Range region of Colorado experienced heavy rainfall that resulted in severe flooding. Precipitation totals for the event exceeded 450&thinsp;mm, damages to public and private properties were estimated to be over $&thinsp;2&thinsp;billion, and nine lives were lost. This study analyzes the characteristics of precipitable water (PW) surrounding the event using 10 years of high-resolution GPS PW data in Boulder, Colorado, which was located within the region of maximum rainfall. PW in Boulder is dominated by seasonal variability with an average summertime maximum of 36&thinsp;mm. In 2013, the seasonal PW maximum extended into early September and the September monthly mean PW exceeded the 99<sup>th</sup> percentile of climatology with a value 25&thinsp;% higher than the 40 year climatology. Prior to the flood, around 18&thinsp;UTC on 8 September, PW rapidly increased from 22&thinsp;mm to 32&thinsp;mm and remained around 30&thinsp;mm for the entire event as a result of the nearly saturated atmosphere. The frequency distribution of September PW for Boulder is typically normal, but in 2013 the distribution was bimodal due to a combination of above average PW values from September 1<sup>st</sup>&ndash;15<sup>th</sup> and much drier conditions from 16<sup>th</sup>&ndash;30<sup>th</sup> September. The above normal, near saturation PW values during the flood were the result of large-scale moisture transport into Colorado from the eastern tropical Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. This moisture transport was the product of a stagnating, cutoff low over the southwestern United States working in conjunction with an anticyclone located over the southeastern United States. A blocking ridge located over the Canadian Rocky Mountains kept both of the synoptic features in place over the course of several days, which helped to provide continuous moisture to the storm, thus enhancing the accumulated precipitation totals.
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