Relations Between Rainfall and Postfire Debris-Flow and Flood Magnitudes for Emergency-Response Planning, San Gabriel Mountains, Southern California

Open-File Report 2010-1039

In cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service
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Following wildfires, emergency-response and public-safety agencies are faced often with making evacuation decisions and deploying resources both well in advance of each coming winter storm and during storms themselves. Information critical to this process is provided for recently burned areas in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California. The National Weather Service (NWS) issues Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts (QPFs) for the San Gabriel Mountains twice a day, at approximately 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., along with unscheduled updates when conditions change. QPFs provide estimates of rainfall totals in 3-hour increments for the first 12-hour period and in 6-hour increments for the second 12-hour period. Estimates of one-hour rainfall intensities can be provided in the forecast narrative, along with probable peak intensities and timing, although with less confidence than rainfall totals. A compilation of information on the hydrologic response to winter storms from recently burned areas in southern California steeplands was used to develop a system for classifying the magnitude of the postfire hydrologic response. The four-class system is based on a combination of the reported volume of individual debris flows, the consequences of these events in an urban setting, and the spatial extent of the response to the triggering storm. Threshold rainfall conditions associated with debris flow and floods of different magnitude classes are defined by integrating local rainfall data with debris-flow and flood magnitude information. The within-storm rainfall accumulations (A) and durations (D) above which magnitude I events are expected are defined by A=0.3D0.6. The function A=0.5D0.6 defines the within-storm rainfall accumulations and durations above which a magnitude III event will occur in response to a regional-scale storm, and a magnitude II event will occur if the storm affects only a few drainage basins. The function A=1.0D0.5defines the rainfall conditions above which magnitude III events can be expected. Rainfall trigger-magnitude relations are linked with potential emergency-response actions in the form of an emergency-response decision chart. The chart leads a user through steps to determine potential event magnitudes, and identify possible evacuation and resource-deployment levels as a function of either individual storm forecasts or measured precipitation during storms. The ability to use this information in the planning and response decision-making process may result in significant financial savings and increased safety for both the public and emergency responders.

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Relations Between Rainfall and Postfire Debris-Flow and Flood Magnitudes for Emergency-Response Planning, San Gabriel Mountains, Southern California
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
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National Landslide Information Center
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