29 Jul 2022
29 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Future changes in flash flood frequency and magnitude over the European Alps

Mar J. Zander1,2, Pety J. Viguurs3, Frederiek C. Sperna Weiland1, and Albrecht H. Weerts1,2 Mar J. Zander et al.
  • 1Department of Inland Water Systems, Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University Research, Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 3TAUW Nederland, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Abstract. Flash Floods are damaging natural hazards which often occur in the European Alps. Precipitation patterns and intensity may change in a future climate affecting their occurrence and magnitude. For impact studies, flash floods can be difficult to simulate due the complex orography and limited extent & duration of the heavy rainfall events which trigger them. The new generation convection-permitting regional climate models (CP-RCMs) improve the representation of the intensity and frequency of heavy precipitation. Therefore, this study combines such simulations with high-resolution distributed hydrological modelling to assess changes in flash flood frequency over the Alpine domain. We use output from a state-of-the-art CP-RCM to drive a high-resolution distributed hydrological wflow_sbm model covering most of the Alpine mountain range on an hourly resolution. First, the hydrological model was validated by comparing ERA5 driven simulation with streamflow observations from 130 stations (across Rhone, Rhine, Po, Adige and Danube basins). Second, a hourly wflow_sbm simulation driven by a CP-RCM downscaled ERAInterim simulation was compared to databases of past flood events to evaluate if the model can accurately simulate flash floods and to determine a suitable threshold definition for flash flooding. Finally, simulations of the future climate RCP 8.5 for the end-of-century (2096–2105) and current climate (1998–2007) are compared for which the CPRCM is driven by a Global Climate Model. The simulations are compared to assess if there are changes in flash flood frequency and magnitude using a threshold approach. Results show a similar flash flood frequency for autumn in the future, but a decrease in summer. However, the future climate simulations indicate an increase in the flash flood severity in both summer and autumn leading to more severe flash flood impacts.

Mar J. Zander et al.

Status: open (until 23 Sep 2022)

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Mar J. Zander et al.

Mar J. Zander et al.


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Short summary
We perform a modelling study to research potential future changes in flash flood occurrence in the European Alps. We use new high-resolution numerical climate simulations, which can simulate the type of local, intense rainstorms which trigger flash floods, combined with high-resolution hydrological modelling. We find that flash floods would become less frequent in summers in our future climate scenario, with little change in autumns. However, the maximal severity would increase in both seasons.