Radar rainfall estimation for flash flood forecasting in small urban watersheds

James A. Smith, Mary Lynn Baeck, Katherine L. Meierdiercks, Andrew J. Miller, Witold F. Krajewski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Radar rainfall estimation for flash flood forecasting in small, urban catchments is examined through analyses of radar, rain gage and discharge observations from the 14.3 km2 Dead Run drainage basin in Baltimore County, Maryland. The flash flood forecasting problem pushes the envelope of rainfall estimation to time and space scales that are commensurate with the scales at which the fundamental governing laws of land surface processes are derived. Analyses of radar rainfall estimates are based on volume scan WSR-88D reflectivity observations for 36 storms during the period 2003-2005. Gage-radar analyses show large spatial variability of storm total rainfall over the 14.3 km2 basin for flash flood producing storms. The ability to capture the detailed spatial variation of rainfall for flash flood producing storms by WSR-88D rainfall estimates varies markedly from event to event. As spatial scale decreases from the 14.3 km2 scale of the Dead Run watershed to 1 km2 (and the characteristic time scale of flash flood producing rainfall decreases from 1 h to 15 min) the predictability of flash flood response from WSR-88D rainfall estimates decreases sharply. Storm to storm variability of multiplicative bias in storm total rainfall estimates is a dominant element of the error structure of radar rainfall estimates, and it varies systematically over the warm season and with flood magnitude. Analyses of the 7 July 2004 and 28 June 2005 storms illustrate microphysical and dynamical controls on radar estimation error for extreme flash flood producing storms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2087-2097
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • Flash flood
  • Rainfall
  • Weather radar


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