Numerical simulations of the 2013 Alberta flood: Dynamics, thermodynamics, and the role of orography

Shawn M. Milrad, Kelly Lombardo, Eyad H. Atallah, John R. Gyakum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The 19-21 June 2013 Alberta flood was the second costliest ($6 billion CAD) natural disaster in Canadian history, trailing only the 2016 Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, wildfires. One of the primary drivers was an extreme rainfall event that resulted in 75-150mm of precipitation in the foothills west of Calgary, Canada. Here, the mesoscale dynamics and thermodynamics that contributed to the extreme rainfall event are elucidated through high-resolution numerical model simulations. In addition, terrain reduction model sensitivity experiments using Gaussian smoothing techniques quantify the importance of orography in producing the extreme rainfall event. It is suggested that the extreme rainfall event was initially characterized by the formation of a surface cyclone on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies due to quasigeostrophic (QG) mechanisms. Orographic processes and diabatic heating feedbacks maintained the surface cyclone throughout the event, extending the duration of both easterly upslope flow and QG forcing for ascent in the flood region. The long-duration ascent and associated condensational heat release in the flood region vertically redistributed potential vorticity, anchoring and further extending the duration of the surface cyclone, upslope flow, and the rainfall. Although the magnitudes of ascent and precipitation were smaller in 10% and 25% reduced terrain simulations, only a terrain reduction of greater than 25% drastically altered the location and magnitude of the heaviest precipitation and the associated physical mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3049-3072
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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