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Researchers Evaluate Weather Forecasting Models in Mountainous Flooding

The dark blue areas over Colorado indicate regions that received more than 1,000 percent of their normal rainfall for Sept. 10-16, 2013. Credit: National Weather Service AHiPS The dark blue areas over Colorado indicate regions that received more than 1,000 percent of their normal rainfall for Sept. 10-16, 2013. Credit: National Weather Service AHiPS

Two Iowa researchers recently tested the world's most advanced weather forecasting models to predict the September 9-16, 2013 extreme rainfall event that caused severe flooding in Boulder, Colorado.

The results were published in the December 2013 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters… and indicated the forecasting models generally performed well… but left room for improvement.

David Lavers and Gabriele Villarini… researchers at the Hydroscience and Engineering… a world-renowned Iowa research facility… evaluated rainfall forecasts from eight global numerical weather prediction models.

During September 2013… Boulder and surrounding areas experienced severe flooding and heavy rain resulting in fatalities… the loss of homes and businesses and the declaration of a major disaster.

Lavers and Villarini decided to examine how well some of the leading NWP models had done.

Numerical weather prediction involves integrating current weather conditions through mathematical models of the atmosphere-ocean system to forecast future weather.

For their study… the researchers selected the actual rainfall forecasts made by eight state-of-the-art global numerical prediction models for the period of the Colorado floods.

The models tended to underestimate rainfall amounts and placed the rainfall in the wrong area… even though they provided an indication that a period of heavy rainfall was going to affect parts of Colorado.

Lavers and Villarini used a reasonably coarse (having a relatively low number of pixels) global model output. The UI researchers emphasize that higher spatial resolution NWP models are likely to have captured the rainfall to a greater extent.

Says Lavers: "It is hoped that the continuing development of finer resolution NWP models that resolve the complex atmospheric motions in mountainous terrain, such as the Rocky Mountains, will make it possible to improve the forecasting capabilities of such extreme rainfall events."

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