Mixture distributions and the hydroclimatology of extreme rainfall and flooding in the Eastern United States

James A. Smith, Gabriele Villarini, Mary Lynn Baeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Flooding in the eastern United States reflects a mixture of flood-generating mechanisms, with landfalling tropical cyclones and extratropical systems playing central roles. The authors examine the climatology of heavy rainfall and flood magnitudes for the eastern United States through analyses of long-duration records of flood peaks and maximum daily rainfall series. Spatial heterogeneities in flood peak distributions due to orographic precipitation mechanisms in mountainous terrain, coastal circulations near land-ocean boundaries, and urbanization impacts on regional climate are central elements of flood peak distributions. Lagrangian analyses of rainfall distribution and storm evolution are presented for flood events in the eastern United States and used to motivate new directions for stochastic modeling of rainfall. Tropical cyclones are an important element of the upper tail of flood peak distributions throughout the eastern United States, but their relative importance varies widely, and abruptly, in space over the region. Nonstationarities and long-term persistence of flood peak and rainfall distributions are examined from the perspective of the impacts of human-induced climate change on flood-generating mechanisms. Analyses of flood frequency for the eastern United States, which are based on observations from a dense network of U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gauging stations, provide insights into emerging problems in flood science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-309
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Extreme events
  • Flood events
  • Hydrology
  • Rainfall
  • Tropical cyclones


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