Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
17 Jan 2007
17 Jan 2007

Regional precipitation-frequency analysis and spatial mapping for 24-hour and 2-hour durations for Washington State

J. R. Wallis, M. G. Schaefer, B. L. Barker, and G. H. Taylor

Abstract. This study is an update of the information contained in the precipitation-frequency atlas published by the US National Weather Service in 1973. Data collection for the NWS study ended in 1966 while this study uses the current data base which more than doubles the record length used in the NWS study. Washington State has highly variable topography and climate; in particular Mean Annual Precipitation (MAP) varies from over 260 inches a year to less than 7 inches. Steep high mountain ranges provide very wet slopes as well as pronounced rain shadows with large climate changes occurring in relatively short distances. In addition there are four distinct sources for the atmospheric moisture needed for precipitation which gives rise to complex seasonal and spatial interactions. The PRISM mapping system used in this study has greatly improved the spatial mapping of precipitation and increased the reliability of estimates of precipitation in the broad areas between precipitation measurement stations. Further, the development and use of regional L-Moments has greatly improved the reliability of precipitation magnitude-frequency estimates, particularly for the rarer and more extreme storms. Washington State could be specified adequately by 12 regions for the purposes of estimating the 2-hour and 24 hour precipitation frequencies. Within each region algorithms were developed for L-CV and L-Skewness expressed as functions of the MAP. The GEV distribution was acceptable statistically for all regions up to the 1 in 500 recurrence interval, beyond which the four-parameter Kappa distribution is recommended. The estimated changes in precipitation magnitudes for a given frequency as regional boundaries were crossed were found to be small, and well within the expected differences likely from sampling errors. An interesting transition zone was observed at the eastern edge of the Cascade foothills, associated with the maxima having a seasonal change from autumn–winter synoptic scale general storms in the west to spring–summer maxima in the east that were produced by a mix of storm types. (Comment: storms were a mix of general storms and more-isolated convective storms).

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