Value of a dual-polarized gap-filling radar in support of southern California post-fire debris-flow warnings

Journal of Hydrometeorology
By: , and 

Links

Abstract

A portable truck-mounted C-band Doppler weather radar was deployed to observe rainfall over the Station Fire burn area near Los Angeles, California, during the winter of 2009/10 to assist with debris-flow warning decisions. The deployments were a component of a joint NOAA–U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research effort to improve definition of the rainfall conditions that trigger debris flows from steep topography within recent wildfire burn areas. A procedure was implemented to blend various dual-polarized estimators of precipitation (for radar observations taken below the freezing level) using threshold values for differential reflectivity and specific differential phase shift that improves the accuracy of the rainfall estimates over a specific burn area sited with terrestrial tipping-bucket rain gauges. The portable radar outperformed local Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) National Weather Service network radars in detecting rainfall capable of initiating post-fire runoff-generated debris flows. The network radars underestimated hourly precipitation totals by about 50%. Consistent with intensity–duration threshold curves determined from past debris-flow events in burned areas in Southern California, the portable radar-derived rainfall rates exceeded the empirical thresholds over a wider range of storm durations with a higher spatial resolution than local National Weather Service operational radars. Moreover, the truck-mounted C-band radar dual-polarimetric-derived estimates of rainfall intensity provided a better guide to the expected severity of debris-flow events, based on criteria derived from previous events using rain gauge data, than traditional radar-derived rainfall approaches using reflectivity–rainfall relationships for either the portable or operational network WSR-88D radars. Part of the reason for the improvement was due to siting the radar closer to the burn zone than the WSR-88Ds, but use of the dual-polarimetric variables improved the rainfall estimation by ~12% over the use of traditional ZR relationships.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Value of a dual-polarized gap-filling radar in support of southern California post-fire debris-flow warnings
Series title Journal of Hydrometeorology
DOI 10.1175/JHM-D-11-05.1
Volume 12
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher American Meteorological Society
Contributing office(s) Geology and Geophysics Science Center
Description 15 p.
First page 1581
Last page 1595