Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events

A Brief Assessment

Committee on Meteorological Analysis, Prediction, and Research

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources

National Research Council

NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, D.C. 1994



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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events A Brief Assessment Committee on Meteorological Analysis, Prediction, and Research Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C. 1994

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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce Alberts and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council. This material is based on work partially supported by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Contract Number FERC93PHL00354 and by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number ATM 9316824. A limited number of copies of this report are available from the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20418 Copyright © 1994 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Cover art: Cole, Thomas (1801–1848), The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton), oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908. (08.228). Copyright © 1981 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Printed in the United States of America

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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment COMMITTEE ON METEOROLOGICAL ANALYSIS, PREDICTION, AND RESEARCH PETER V. HOBBS (Chair), University of Washington, Seattle JAMES A. SMITH (Study Leader), Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey KENNETH C. CRAWFORD, University of Oklahoma, Norman DENNIS G. DEAVEN, National Meteorological Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Camp Springs, Maryland FRANCO EINAUDI, Goddard Space Flight Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Greenbelt, Maryland KERRY A. EMANUEL, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge EARL E. GOSSARD, University of Colorado, Boulder M. PATRICK McCORMICK, Langley Research Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Hampton, Virginia ROBERT J. SERAFIN, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado WARREN H. WHITE, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri MARILYN M. WOLFSON, Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lexington EDWARD J. ZIPSER, Texas A&M University, College Station Consultant KENNETH POTTER, University of Wisconsin, Madison Staff WILLIAM A. SPRIGG, Director MARK DAVID HANDEL, Senior Program Officer DORIS BOUADJEMI, Administrative Assistant

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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment BOARD ON ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES AND CLIMATE JOHN A. DUTTON (Chair), Pennsylvania State University, University Park CRAIG E. DORMAN, Consultant, Arlington, Virginia MICHAEL FOX-RABINOVITZ, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland PETER V. HOBBS, University of Washington, Seattle WITOLD F. KRAJEWSKI, University of Iowa, Iowa City MARGARET A. LeMONE, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado DOUGLAS K. LILLY, University of Oklahoma, Norman RICHARD S. LINDZEN, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge GERALD R. NORTH, Texas A&M University, College Station EUGENE M. RASMUSSON, University of Maryland, College Park ROBERT J. SERAFIN, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado Ex Officio Members ERIC J. BARRON, Pennsylvania State University, University Park WILLIAM L. CHAMEIDES, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta MARVIN A. GELLER, State University of New York, Stony Brook Staff WILLIAM A. SPRIGG, Director KENT GRONINGER, Senior Program Officer MARK DAVID HANDEL, Senior Program Officer DAVID H. SLADE, Senior Program Officer ELLEN F. RICE, Editor DORIS BOUADJEMI, Administrative Assistant THERESA M. FISHER, Administrative Assistant

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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment COMMISSION ON GEOSCIENCES, ENVIRONMENT, AND RESOURCES M. GORDON WOLMAN (Chair), The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland PATRICK R. ATKINS, Aluminum Company of America, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania EDITH BROWN WEISS, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C. JAMES P. BRUCE, Canadian Climate Program Board, Ottawa WILLIAM L. FISHER, University of Texas, Austin EDWARD A. FRIEMAN, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, University of Virginia, Charlottesville W. BARCLAY KAMB, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena PERRY L. McCARTY, Stanford University, California RAYMOND A. PRICE, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada THOMAS A. SCHELLING, University of Maryland, College Park ELLEN SILBERGELD, Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, D.C. STEVEN M. STANLEY, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland VICTORIA J. TSCHINKEL, Landers and Parsons, Tallahassee, Florida WARREN WASHINGTON, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado Staff STEPHEN RATTIEN, Executive Director STEPHEN D. PARKER, Associate Executive Director MORGAN GOPNIK, Assistant Executive Director JEANETTE SPOON, Administrative Officer SANDI FITZPATRICK, Administrative Associate ROBIN L. ALLEN, Senior Project Assistant

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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment Preface One of the most important societal applications of meteorological knowledge is the prediction of unusual weather events that lead to extremes of temperature, wind, or precipitation. Such predictions are crucial on short time scales. They also are important on very long time scales for designing buildings and other structures to ensure comfort, fuel efficiency, and safety. As our understanding of meteorological processes improves, we can expect to see increasingly accurate estimates of occurrence probabilities for extreme weather events. For many years the design criteria for the construction of high-hazard structures, such as dams and nuclear power plants, have included an assessment of the largest flood to which a structure might be exposed during its lifetime. This assessment involves, among other things, determining the greatest precipitation anticipated for the appropriate drainage basin over time scales relevant to flood production. This is usually expressed in terms of what is called the Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP). Even very small changes in PMP estimates can result in large changes in construction or retrofitting costs. This sensitivity leads to considerations of cost versus safety and sometimes to confrontations between industry and regulators. Hydrometeorologists providing information on extreme weather events cannot ignore how that information will be used and the consequences of their advice. Therefore, it is important that the best available techniques be used in determining PMP or other estimates of precipitation extremes.

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Estimating Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events: A Brief Assessment In view of these issues, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requested that the National Research Council, through its Committee on Meteorological Analysis, Prediction, and Research (CMAPR), make a preliminary assessment of the current scientific understanding of extreme precipitation events, evaluate the status of current procedures for determining PMP, and examine alternatives. As part of its study, the CMAPR organized a public symposium for a “Preliminary Assessment of Probabilities and Bounds on Extreme Precipitation Events” (see the Appendix). The symposium was attended by more than 70 experts and interested parties. We thank all of the speakers for their participation. Particular thanks are due James Smith, who played a lead role in organizing the symposium and in preparing this report. The Committee also thanks its NRC staff officer, Mark Handel, for his competent and efficient assistance. Peter V. Hobbs, Chair Committee on Meteorological Analysis, Prediction, and Research