ESRL/PSD Seminar Series

Physical Processes Associated with Heavy Flooding Rainfall in Nashville, Tennessee, and Vicinity during 1-2 May 2010: The Role of an Atmospheric River and Mesoscale Convective Systems

CIRES, Boulder, CO


A multi-scale analysis is conducted in order to examine the physical processes that resulted in prolonged heavy rainfall and devastating flash flooding across western and central Tennessee and Kentucky on 1-2 May 2010, during which Nashville, Tennessee, received 344.7 mm of rainfall and incurred 11 flood-related fatalities. On the synoptic scale, heavy rainfall was supported by a persistent corridor of strong water vapor transport rooted in the Tropics that was manifested as an atmospheric river (AR). This AR developed as water vapor was extracted from the eastern tropical Pacific and the Caribbean Sea and transported into the central Mississippi Valley by a strong southerly low-level jet (LLJ) positioned between a stationary lee trough along the eastern Mexico coast and a broad, stationary subtropical ridge positioned over the southeastern U.S. and the subtropical Atlantic. The AR, associated with substantial water vapor content and moderate convective available potential energy, supported the successive development of two quasi-stationary mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) on 1 May and 2 May, respectively. These MCSs were both linearly organized and exhibited back building and echo training, processes which afforded the repeated movement of convective cells over the same area of western and central Tennessee and Kentucky, resulting in a narrow band of rainfall totals of 200-400 mm. Mesoscale analyses reveal that the MCSs developed on the warm side of a slow-moving cold front and that the interaction between the southerly LLJ and convectively generated outflow boundaries was fundamental for generating convection.

Wednesday, April 11 2012

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