Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
26 June 2019

Understand the Effects of Climate on Probable Maximum Precipitation and Flood


A high-resolution, numerical modeling framework was established and used by researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to simulate the probable maximum precipitation (PMP) and flood (PMF) in a changing environment. An increase in the deterministic PMP storm upper bound is projected through two different modeling approaches, suggesting a high likelihood of PMP enhancement in a warming climatic environment.


PMP is the largest rainfall depth that could physically occur under a series of adverse atmospheric conditions. It is the design standard of highly important energy-water infrastructures such as dams and nuclear power plants. The increase of PMP has significant implications for our coupled energy-water security. New techniques developed here can help inform our understanding of PMP.


Probable maximum precipitation (PMP) and flood (PMF), defined as the largest rainfall depth and flood event that could physically occur under a series of adverse atmospheric and hydrologic conditions, have been an important design criterion for critical infrastructures such as dams and nuclear power plants in the United States. To understand how PMP and PMF may respond to projected future climate forcings, we used a physics-based numerical weather simulation model to estimate PMP across various durations and areas over the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin in the southeastern United States. Six sets of Weather Research and Forecasting model experiments driven by both reanalysis and global climate model projections, with a total of 120 storms, were conducted. ORNL results showed that PMP driven by projected future climate forcings is higher than 1981–2010 baseline values by around 20% in the 2021–2050 near-future and 44% in the 2071–2100 far-future periods. The additional sensitivity simulations of background air temperature warming also showed an enhancement of PMP, suggesting that atmospheric warming could be one important factor controlling the increase in PMP. In light of the projected increase in precipitation extremes under a warming environment, the reasonableness and role of PMP deserves more in-depth examination.

Shih-Chieh Kao
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
Rastogi, D, S Kao, M Ashfaq, R Mei, ED Kabela, S Gangrade, BS Naz, BL Preston, N Singh, and VG Anantharaj.  2017.  "Effects of climate change on probable maximum precipitation: A sensitivity study over the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin."  Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 122(9): 4808-4828.