Understanding the Spatial Organization of Simultaneous Heavy Precipitation Events Over the Conterminous United States
We introduce the idea of simultaneous heavy precipitation events (SHPEs) to understand whether extreme precipitation has a spatial organization manifested as specified tracks or contiguous fields with inherent scaling relationships. For this purpose, we created a database of SHPEs using ground-based precipitation observations recorded by the daily Global Historical Climatology Network across the conterminous United States during 1900–2014. SHPEs are examined for their seasonality, spatial manifestation, orientation, and areal extent. We quantified the spatial distribution of the centroids and principal axes of SHPEs and their quasi-elliptical manifestations, azimuthal orientations, and areal extents on the ground. Four seasons, December-January-February (DJF), March-April-May (MAM), June-July-August (JJA), and September-October-November (SON) are considered to examine the spatial patterns and associated large-scale atmospheric circulations. Results indicate that there are 54, 58, 103, and 204 SHPEs in DJF, MAM, JJA, and SON seasons, and their longest stretches range on average between 650 and 1,600, between 850 and 1,500, between 950 and 1,550, and between 750 and 1,450 km, respectively. SHPEs in the DJF, MAM, and JJA seasons occur mostly over the Pacific coast and central and midwestern United States, respectively. The atmospheric circulation patterns and mechanisms of precipitable water vapor and moisture transport in the atmosphere are also discussed in relation to these SHPEs. Power laws explain SHPEs' underlying area scaling behavior in all four seasons, with stronger evidence in DJF and MAM. A seasonal spatial risk model is developed to predict the likelihood of SHPEs. Quantifying the characteristics of SHPEs and modeling their footprints can improve the projections of flood risk and understanding of damages to interconnected infrastructure systems.