Urbanization and climate change: An examination of nonstationarities in urban flooding

Long Yang, James A. Smith, Daniel B. Wright, Mary Lynn Baeck, Gabriele Villarini, Fuqiang Tian, Heping Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The authors examine the hydroclimatology, hydrometeorology, and hydrology of flooding in the Milwaukee metropolitan region of the upper midwestern United States. The objectives of this study are 1) to assess nonstationarities in flood frequency associated with urban transformation of land surface properties and climate change and 2) to examine how spatial heterogeneity in land surface properties and heavy rainfall climatology interact to determine floods in urbanizing areas. The authors focus on the Menomonee River basin, which drains much of the urban core of Milwaukee, and the adjacent Cedar Creek basin, where agricultural land use dominates. Results are based on analyses of bias-corrected, high-resolution (1-km2 spatial resolution and 15-min time resolution) radar rainfall fields that are developed using the Hydro-NEXRAD system, rainfall observations from a network of 21 rain gauges in the Milwaukee metropolitan region, and discharge observations from 11 U.S. Geological Survey stream gauging stations. Both annual flood peak magnitudes and annual peaks over threshold flood counts have increased for the Menomonee River basin during the past five decades, and these trends are accompanied by a transition of flood events dominated by snowmelt (March-April floods) to a regime in which warm season thunderstorms are the dominant floodproducing agents. The frequency of heavy rainfall events has increased significantly. The spatial distribution of rainfall for flood-producing storms in the Milwaukee study region exhibits striking spatial heterogeneity, with a maximum in the central portion of the Menomonee River basin. Storm event hydrologic response is determined by the interactions of spatial patterns of urbanization and rainfall distribution in the Menomonee River basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1791-1809
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Climate change
  • Flood events
  • Land use
  • Radars/Radar observations
  • Trends
  • Urban meteorology


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