An Atmospheric Water Balance Perspective on Extreme Rainfall Potential for the Contiguous US

Yibing Su, James A. Smith

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18 Scopus citations


In this study, we examine extremes of atmospheric water balance components through analyses of annual maxima of precipitable water and water vapor transport. Our analyses are grounded in Extreme Value Theory, using the Generalized Extreme Value (GEV) distribution as a platform for assessing water balance extremes. Annual maxima of atmospheric water balance terms are computed from North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) fields for the 40-year period extending from 1979 to 2018 on a grid of approximately 0.3-degree resolution. We assess nonstationarities in the annual maximum time series through tests for monotonic trends. Estimates of the location, scale, and shape parameters for the Generalized Extreme Value (GEV) distribution are used to examine the spatial variability of water balance extremes. We focus on estimates of the GEV shape parameter, which dictates the “thickness” of the upper tail of the distribution. Estimates of the GEV shape parameter for precipitable water generally point to bounded distributions, but clusters of unbounded, thick-tailed distributions are linked to exceptionally large record values of precipitable water associated with tropical cyclones in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. Larger regions of “thick-tailed” distributions are found for integrated water vapor transport (IVT). Non-stationary GEV models are used to examine the impacts of trends on extremes of the atmospheric water balance. Mixtures of rare events associated with tropical cyclones and extratropical cyclones play a central role in analyses of water balance extremes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020WR028387
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • Extreme rainfall
  • Generalized Extreme Value Theorem (GEV)
  • atmospheric water balance


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