From drought to flooding in less than a week over the Carolinas, as depicted by SPoRT-LIS

A closed upper low over the Southeastern U.S. combined with a deep tropical moisture connection with Hurricane Joaquin led to historic rainfall and flooding over North and especially South Carolina over the weekend.  A wide swath of central South Carolina from the coast to Columbia received over 20 inches of rainfall in the past week (Fig. 1), much of it in the last 2-3 days.  Figure 2 shows the NASA Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) 24-h rainfall estimates displayed in AWIPS II compared to the official NWS/River Forecast Center rainfall estimate for the period ending 1200 UTC on 4 October.  This is erasing the prevailing drought in the Carolinas, which still had moderate to severe drought in the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor weekly product valid 29 September (Fig. 3).

SPoRT’s real-time configuration of the NASA Land Information System (SPoRT-LIS) runs the Noah land surface model to generate a “best modeled” soil moisture estimate at ~3-km resolution for enhanced situational awareness and input to local/regional numerical weather prediction models.  The SPoRT-LIS was assessed during summer/fall 2014 by the NOAA/NWS weather forecast offices (WFOs) at Houston, TX, Raleigh, NC, and Huntsville, AL. Following an expansion to a full Continental U.S. domain, the SPoRT-LIS was also evaluated more informally by the NWS WFOs at Tucson, AZ and Albuquerque, NM this past summer.  The primary areas of utility has been in drought monitoring and assessing areal and river flooding potential.  However, the Southwestern U.S. offices applied SPoRT-LIS soil moisture fields to enhance situational awareness for wildfire and blowing dust situations as well. Overall, a majority of the users during these assessments expressed substantial utility of the product due to a lack of other real-time high-resolution soil moisture products, and were confident enough to use the product as part of operational, public forecasts.

This extreme rainfall event in the Carolinas was captured nicely by the real-time SPoRT-LIS, which depicted some of the most dramatic changes in total column soil moisture ever documented by SPoRT collaborators.  Figure 4 compares the SPoRT-LIS 0-2 m total column relative soil moisture (RSM) from 28 September (left panel) and 5 October (right panel), with Figure 5 highlighting the 1-week change in 0-2 m RSM as displayed in AWIPS II.  The RSM represents how the volumetric soil moisture scales between wilting (0%) and saturation (100%) for a given soil composition, where the wilting point indicates that vegetation can no longer extract moisture from the soil and saturation indicates no more infiltration is possible (thus all new precipitation goes to runoff). Previous experience by the Huntsville WFO found that total column RSM values of ~60% and above tend to indicate an enhanced threat for areal and river flooding over northern Alabama; however, these thresholds can vary depending on river basin properties and regional soil composition.

Values of total column RSM typically ranged from ~25-35% on 28 September, prior to the significant rain event.  However, by 5 October, total column RSM increased to well above 65% in most areas of central South Carolina, and parts of southern and far western North Carolina.  The maximum weekly change in 0-2 m RSM (Fig. 5) exceeds 58% in central South Carolina — a value never documented in the recent years of real-time SPoRT-LIS output!  Most areas of SPoRT-LIS 0-2 m RSM exceeding ~60% correspond to areas of active minor to major river flooding across parts of southern Virginia and the Carolinas, as depicted in the USGS/NOAA river gauge network this morning (Fig. 6).

Finally, SPoRT is producing an experimental daily, real-time soil moisture percentile product based on a 33-year LIS-Noah county-by-county soil moisture climatology.  The soil moisture percentile map indicates where the current 0-2 m RSM soil moisture values lie in the present day’s historical soil moisture distribution for every county in the Continental U.S. The percentile product valid at 1200 UTC 27 September and 4 October is shown in Figure 7.  Primarily dry soil moisture values between ~5th-30th percentile are prevalent across the Carolinas on 27 September, corresponding reasonably well to the U.S. Drought Monitor moderate to severe drought areas from Figure 3. However, after the 10-20+ inches of rainfall over the past week, the 4 October soil moisture percentiles completely reversed across the region, with values > 98th percentile occurring in central South Carolina where the most severe flooding is taking place.  SPoRT plans to develop a brief training module on this percentile product prior to dissemination for display in AWIPS II at NWS WFOs, along with the current suite of SPoRT-LIS fields already available in AWIPS II.

Fig. 1. NWS River Forecast Center rainfall analysis for the week ending 1200 UTC 5 October 20125.

Fig. 1. NWS River Forecast Center rainfall analysis for the week ending 1200 UTC 5 October 2015.

Fig. 2. Comparison of NASA Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) rainfall estimate to the NWS/River Forecast Center analysis for the 24-hour period ending 1200 UTC 4 October 2015.

Fig. 2. Comparison of NASA Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) rainfall estimate to the NWS/River Forecast Center analysis for the 24-hour period ending 1200 UTC 4 October 2015.

Fig. 2. U.S. Drought Monitor weekly drought product valid 29 September 2015.

Fig. 3. U.S. Drought Monitor weekly drought product valid 29 September 2015.

Fig. 3. SPoRT-LIS total column (0-2 m) relative soil moisture valid on (left panel) 28 September, and (right panel) 5 October 2015.

Fig. 4. SPoRT-LIS total column (0-2 m) relative soil moisture valid on (left panel) 28 September, and (right panel) 5 October 2015.  Masked white areas represent water or urban pixels.

Fig. 4. One-week change in SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture for the week ending 5 October 2015, as displayed in AWIPS II.

Fig. 5. One-week change in SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture for the week ending 5 October 2015, as displayed in AWIPS II.  Maximum weekly change value > 58% is highlighted by the cursor position.  Masked black areas represent water or urban pixels.

Fig. 6. USGS and NWS River Forecast Center river gauge plot for the morning of 5 October 2015. River gauges experiencing flooding are indicated by the legend in the lower-right.

Fig. 6. USGS / NWS River Forecast Center river gauge plot for the morning of 5 October 2015. River gauges experiencing flooding are indicated by the legend in the lower-right.

Fig. 5. Experimental SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture percentile product, valid at 1200 UTC on (left panel) 27 September, and (right panel) 4 October 2015.

Fig. 7. Experimental SPoRT-LIS total column relative soil moisture percentile product, valid at 1200 UTC on (left panel) 27 September, and (right panel) 4 October 2015.  Masked white areas represent water or urban pixels.

One thought on “From drought to flooding in less than a week over the Carolinas, as depicted by SPoRT-LIS

  1. Very informative post Jon. Thanks for putting this together! Some of us in the field, and with responsibilities in drought and flood risk assessment are eagerly awaiting the soil moisture percentile products.

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