Articles | Volume 20, issue 6
Research article
15 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 15 Jun 2016

A radar-based regional extreme rainfall analysis to derive the thresholds for a novel automatic alert system in Switzerland

Luca Panziera, Marco Gabella, Stefano Zanini, Alessandro Hering, Urs Germann, and Alexis Berne

Abstract. This paper presents a regional extreme rainfall analysis based on 10 years of radar data for the 159 regions adopted for official natural hazard warnings in Switzerland. Moreover, a nowcasting tool aimed at issuing heavy precipitation regional alerts is introduced. The two topics are closely related, since the extreme rainfall analysis provides the thresholds used by the nowcasting system for the alerts. Warm and cold seasons' monthly maxima of several statistical quantities describing regional rainfall are fitted to a generalized extreme value distribution in order to derive the precipitation amounts corresponding to sub-annual return periods for durations of 1, 3, 6, 12, 24 and 48 h. It is shown that regional return levels exhibit a large spatial variability in Switzerland, and that their spatial distribution strongly depends on the duration of the aggregation period: for accumulations of 3 h and shorter, the largest return levels are found over the northerly alpine slopes, whereas for longer durations the southern Alps exhibit the largest values. The inner alpine chain shows the lowest values, in agreement with previous rainfall climatologies.

The nowcasting system presented here is aimed to issue heavy rainfall alerts for a large variety of end users, who are interested in different precipitation characteristics and regions, such as, for example, small urban areas, remote alpine catchments or administrative districts. The alerts are issued not only if the rainfall measured in the immediate past or forecast in the near future exceeds some predefined thresholds but also as soon as the sum of past and forecast precipitation is larger than threshold values. This precipitation total, in fact, has primary importance in applications for which antecedent rainfall is as important as predicted one, such as urban floods early warning systems. The rainfall fields, the statistical quantity representing regional rainfall and the frequency of alerts issued in case of continuous threshold exceedance are some of the configurable parameters of the tool.

The analysis of the urban flood which occurred in the city of Schaffhausen in May 2013 suggests that this alert tool might have complementary skill with respect to radar-based thunderstorm nowcasting systems for storms which do not show a clear convective signature.

Short summary
This paper presents a novel system to issue heavy rainfall alerts for predefined geographical regions by evaluating the sum of precipitation fallen in the immediate past and expected in the near future. In order to objectively define the thresholds for the alerts, an extreme rainfall analysis for the 159 regions used for official warnings in Switzerland was developed. It is shown that the system has additional lead time with respect to thunderstorm tracking tools targeted for convective storms.