12 Nov 2021

12 Nov 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

A Performance-Based Approach to Quantify Atmospheric River Flood Risk

Corinne Bowers1, Katherine A. Serafin2, and Jack W. Baker1 Corinne Bowers et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University
  • 2Department of Geography, University of Florida

Abstract. Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are a class of meteorologic phenomena that cause significant precipitation and flooding on the US West Coast. This work presents a new Performance-based Atmospheric River Risk Analysis (PARRA) framework that adapts existing concepts from probabilistic risk analysis and performance-based engineering for application in the context of AR-driven fluvial flooding. The PARRA framework is a chain of physically based models that link the atmospheric forcings, hydrologic impacts, and economic consequences of AR-driven fluvial flood risk together at consistent “pinch point” variables. Organizing around these pinch points makes the framework modular, in that models between pinch points can be updated without affecting the rest of the model chain, and it produces a probabilistic result that quantifies the uncertainty in the underlying system states. The PARRA framework can produce results beyond analyses of individual scenario events and can look towards prospective assessment of events or system changes that have not been seen in the historic record.

The utility of the PARRA framework is demonstrated through a series of analyses in Sonoma County, California. Evaluation of a February 2019 case study AR event shows that the individual component models produce simulated distributions that capture the observed precipitation, streamflow, inundation, and damage. The component models are then run in sequence to generate a first-of-its-kind AR flood loss exceedance curve for Sonoma County. The prospective capabilities of the PARRA framework are presented through the evaluation of a hypothetical mitigation action. It was found elevating 150 homes, selected based on their proximity to the Russian River, was able to reduce the average annual loss by half. The loss results from the mitigated building portfolio are compared against the original case. While expected benefits were minimal for the smallest events, the larger, more damaging ARs were expected to see loss reductions of approximately $50 million per event. These results indicate the potential of the PARRA framework for examining other changes to flood risk at the community level, including future changes to the hazard, through climate change; exposure, through development; and/or vulnerability, through flood mitigation investments.

Corinne Bowers et al.

Status: open (until 02 Jan 2022)

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Corinne Bowers et al.

Model code and software

PARRA Supplementary Code Repository Corinne Bowers

Corinne Bowers et al.


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Short summary
Atmospheric rivers (ARs) cause significant flooding on the US West Coast. We present a new Performance-based Atmospheric River Risk Analysis (PARRA) framework that connects models of atmospheric forcings, hydrologic impacts, and economic consequences to better estimate losses from AR-induced river flooding. We apply the PARRA framework to a case study in Sonoma County, California and show that the framework can estimate the potential benefit of flood mitigation actions such as home elevation.