The catastrophic flash-flood event of 8–9 September 2002 in the Gard region, France: a first case study for the Cévennes–Vivarais Mediterranean Hydrometeorological Observatory

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Delrieu, Guy ; Nicol, John ; Yates, Eddy ; Kirstetter, Pierre-Emmanuel ; Creutin, Jean-Dominique ; Anquetin, Sandrine ; Obled, Charles ; Saulnier, Georges-Marie ; Ducrocq, Véronique ; Gaume, Eric ; Payrastre, Olivier ; Andrieu, Hervé ; Ayral, Pierre-Alain ; Bouvier, Christophe ; Neppel, Luc ; Livet, Marc ; Lang, Michel ; du-Châtelet, Jacques Parent ; Walpersdorf, Andrea ; Wobrock, Wolfram (2005)

The Cévennes–Vivarais Mediterranean Hydrometeorological Observatory (OHM-CV) is a research initiative aimed at improving the understanding and modeling of the Mediterranean intense rain events that frequently result in devastating flash floods in southern France. A primary objective is to bring together the skills of meteorologists and hydrologists, modelers and instrumentalists, researchers and practitioners, to cope with these rather unpredictable events. In line with previously published flash-flood monographs, the present paper aims at documenting the 8–9 September 2002 catastrophic event, which resulted in 24 casualties and an economic damage evaluated at 1.2 billion euros (i.e., about 1 billion U.S. dollars) in the Gard region, France. A description of the synoptic meteorological situation is first given and shows that no particular precursor indicated the imminence of such an extreme event. Then, radar and rain gauge analyses are used to assess the magnitude of the rain event, which was particularly remarkable for its spatial extent with rain amounts greater than 200 mm in 24 h over 5500 km2. The maximum values of 600–700 mm observed locally are among the highest daily records in the region. The preliminary results of the postevent hydrological investigation show that the hydrologic response of the upstream watersheds of the Gard and Vidourle Rivers is consistent with the marked space–time structure of the rain event. It is noteworthy that peak specific discharges were very high over most of the affected areas (5–10 m3 s−1 km−2) and reached locally extraordinary values of more than 20 m3 s−1 km−2. A preliminary analysis indicates contrasting hydrological behaviors that seem to be related to geomorphological factors, notably the influence of karst in part of the region. An overview of the ongoing meteorological and hydrological research projects devoted to this case study within the OHM-CV is finally presented.
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