Articles | Volume 16, issue 2
Research article
22 Feb 2016
Research article |  | 22 Feb 2016

Atmospheric circulation patterns, cloud-to-ground lightning, and locally intense convective rainfall associated with debris flow initiation in the Dolomite Alps of northeastern Italy

S. Jeffrey Underwood, Michael D. Schultz, Metteo Berti, Carlo Gregoretti, Alessandro Simoni, Thomas L. Mote, and Anthony M. Saylor

Abstract. The Dolomite Alps of northeastern Italy experience debris flows with great frequency during the summer months. An ample supply of unconsolidated material on steep slopes and a summer season climate regime characterized by recurrent thunderstorms combine to produce an abundance of these destructive hydro-geologic events. In the past, debris flow events have been studied primarily in the context of their geologic and geomorphic characteristics. The atmospheric contribution to these mass-wasting events has been limited to recording rainfall and developing intensity thresholds for debris mobilization. This study aims to expand the examination of atmospheric processes that preceded both locally intense convective rainfall (LICR) and debris flows in the Dolomite region. 500 hPa pressure level plots of geopotential heights were constructed for a period of 3 days prior to debris flow events to gain insight into the synoptic-scale processes which provide an environment conducive to LICR in the Dolomites. Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning flash data recorded at the meso-scale were incorporated to assess the convective environment proximal to debris flow source regions. Twelve events were analyzed and from this analysis three common synoptic-scale circulation patterns were identified. Evaluation of CG flashes at smaller spatial and temporal scales illustrated that convective processes vary in their production of CF flashes (total number) and the spatial distribution of flashes can also be quite different between events over longer periods. During the 60 min interval immediately preceding debris flow a majority of cases exhibited spatial and temporal colocation of LICR and CG flashes. Also a number of CG flash parameters were found to be significantly correlated to rainfall intensity prior to debris flow initiation.

Short summary
This study examines 12 debris flow events occurring in northeast Italy. The study is one of the first to incorporate synoptic-scale atmospheric pattern analysis and meso-scale cloud-to-ground lighting flashes (CGFs) to analyze locally intense convective rainfall (LICR) that initiates debris flows in the Dolomite Alps. Three synoptic classifications were identified. CGFs are shown to be very good indicators of LICR and debris flows, confirmed via time-series analysis and correlation analysis.
Final-revised paper