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Hydroclimatic Extremes as Challenges for the Water Management Community: Lessons from Oroville Dam and Hurricane Harvey

Anna M. Wilson, Julie A. Vano, J. Rolf Olsen, Kathleen Miller, Alexis Dufour, Michael Dettinger, David Curtis, Robert Cifelli | December 31, 2018
Summary

Record-breaking extreme storms were a hallmark of 2017 in the United States. An extremely wet winter on the West Coast and brutally damaging hurricane season in the U.S. Southeast and the Caribbean challenged communities and power-, water- and flood-management systems in ways that raised climate change concerns. Among the most severe were two periods of heavy precipitation and high runoff that exposed dangerous weaknesses in water management infrastructure and land use practices in California and Texas. In California, a record-breaking string of atmospheric river landfalls and remarkably wet winter conditions came close to causing a catastrophic failure of the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam (France et al. 2018; Abbott 2018; White et al. 2019) and less publicized concerns elsewhere (Holland et al. 2018; CNRFC 2017). In Texas, near record-doubling rainfall accumulations from Hurricane Harvey led to massive flooding (Blake and Zelinsky 2018) and dam safety challenges in Houston (Wax-Thibodeaux et al. 2017). We use these events as examples to ground the concept that attribution studies, with careful management-focused framing, can help water management better navigate such unprecedented extremes.

*Chapter from the American Meteorological Society’s Explaining Extreme Events of 2017 from a Climate Perspective.

Product Description

Record-breaking extreme storms were a hallmark of 2017 in the United States. An extremely wet winter on the West Coast and brutally damaging hurricane season in the U.S. Southeast and the Caribbean challenged communities and power-, water- and flood-management systems in ways that raised climate change concerns. Among the most severe were two periods of heavy precipitation and high runoff that exposed dangerous weaknesses in water management infrastructure and land use practices in California and Texas. In California, a record-breaking string of atmospheric river landfalls and remarkably wet winter conditions came close to causing a catastrophic failure of the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam (France et al. 2018; Abbott 2018; White et al. 2019) and less publicized concerns elsewhere (Holland et al. 2018; CNRFC 2017). In Texas, near record-doubling rainfall accumulations from Hurricane Harvey led to massive flooding (Blake and Zelinsky 2018) and dam safety challenges in Houston (Wax-Thibodeaux et al. 2017). We use these events as examples to ground the concept that attribution studies, with careful management-focused framing, can help water management better navigate such unprecedented extremes.

*Chapter from the American Meteorological Society’s Explaining Extreme Events of 2017 from a Climate Perspective.

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Keywords:

atmospheric rivers, climate change, flood management, infrastructure, planning and management, risk assessment, water project operations, water supply forecasting