Spatial patterns in thunderstorm rainfall events and their coupling with watershed hydrological response

Efrat Morin, David C. Goodrich, Robert A. Maddox, Xiaogang Gao, Hoshin V. Gupta, Soroosh Sorooshian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Weather radar systems provide detailed information on spatial rainfall patterns known to play a significant role in runoff generation processes. In the current study, we present an innovative approach to exploit spatial rainfall information of air mass thunderstorms and link it with a watershed hydrological model. Observed radar data are decomposed into sets of rain cells conceptualized as circular Gaussian elements and the associated rain cell parameters, namely, location, maximal intensity and decay factor, are input into a hydrological model. Rain cells were retrieved from radar data for several thunderstorms over southern Arizona. Spatial characteristics of the resulting rain fields were evaluated using data from a dense rain gauge network. For an extreme case study in a semi-arid watershed, rain cells were derived and fed as input into a hydrological model to compute runoff response. A major factor in this event was found to be a single intense rain cell (out of the five cells decomposed from the storm). The path of this cell near watershed tributaries and toward the outlet enhanced generation of high flow. Furthermore, sensitivity analysis to cell characteristics indicated that peak discharge could be a factor of two higher if the cell was initiated just a few kilometers aside.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)843-860
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in Water Resources
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Distributed hydrological models
  • Rain cell
  • Rainfall
  • Spatial patterns
  • Thunderstorms
  • Weather radar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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