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Hydroclimatological and paleohydrological context of extreme winter flooding in Arizona, 1993

By
P. Kyle House
P. Kyle House
Quaternary Sciences Center, Desert Research Institute, 7010 Dandini Boulevard, Reno, Nevada 89512
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Katherine K. Hirschboeck
Katherine K. Hirschboeck
Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721
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Published:
January 01, 1997

Abstract

Extreme flooding in Arizona during the winter of 1993 resulted from a nearly optimal combination of flood-enhancing factors involving hydroclimatology, hydro-meteorology, and physiography. The floods of January and February 1993 were the result of record precipitation from the passage of an unusually high number of winter storm fronts. These fronts moved across Arizona as part of an exceptionally active storm track that was located unusually far south. The number of individual storms that entered the region and the relative position of each storm track in relation to previous storms was reflected in a complex spatial and temporal distribution of flood peaks. An analysis of the hydroclimatic context of these floods supports a general conclusion that in Arizona, front-generated winter precipitation is most often the cause of extreme floods in large watersheds, even in basins that tend to experience their greatest frequency of flooding from other types of storms. A comparison of the 1993 floods with gauged, historical, and paleoflood data from Arizona indicates that, although many individual flood peaks were quite large, they were within the range of documented extreme flooding over the past 1,000+ yr. The 1993 flood scenario provides a convincing analogue for the climatic and hydrologic processes that must have operated to generate comparably large paleofloods, that is, abnormally high rainfall totals, repeated accumulation and melting of snow, and rain on snow. Such conditions are initiated and perpetuated by a persistent winter circulation anomaly in the North Pacific Ocean that repeatedly steers alternately warm and cold storms into the region along a southerly displaced storm track. This scenario is enhanced by an active subtropical jet stream, common during El Nino-Southern Oscillation periods.

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Contents

GSA Reviews in Engineering Geology

Storm-Induced Geologic Hazards

Robert A. Larson
Robert A. Larson
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works 900 South Fremont Avenue Alhambra, California 91803
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James E. Slosson
James E. Slosson
Slosson and Associates 15500 Erwin Street, Suite 1123 Van Nuys, California 91411
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Geological Society of America
Volume
11
ISBN electronic:
9780813758114
Publication date:
January 01, 1997

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