Hydroclimatological Aspects of the Extreme 2011 Assiniboine River Basin Flood

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 5:30 PM
Julian Brimelow1, Kit Szeto2, Barrie R Bonsal3, John Hanesiak4, Bohdan Kochtubajda1 and Ronald E Stewart4, (1)Environment Canada Edmonton, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)Environment Canada, Downsview, ON, Canada, (3)Environment Canada Saskatoon, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, (4)University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
In the spring and early summer of 2011, the Assiniboine River Basin in Canada experienced an extreme flood that was unprecedented in terms of duration and volume of water. The flood had significant socioeconomic impacts and caused over one billion dollars in damage. Contrary to what one might expect for such an extreme flood, individual precipitation events before and during the 2011 flood were not extreme; instead, it was the cumulative impact and timing of precipitation events going back to the summer of 2010 that played a key role in the 2011 flood. The summer and fall of 2010 were exceptionally wet, resulting in soil moisture levels being much above normal at the time of freeze up. This was followed by above-average precipitation during the winter of 2010–2011, and record-breaking basin-averaged snow-water equivalent values in March and April 2011. Abnormally cold temperatures in March delayed the spring melt by about two weeks, with the result that the above-average seasonal melt freshet occurred close to the onset of abnormally heavy rains in May and June. The large-scale atmospheric flow during May and June 2011 favoured increased cyclone activity over the central and northern U.S., which produced an anomalously large number of heavy rainfall events over the basin. All of these factors combined to generate extreme surface runoff and flooding. We used JRA-55 reanalysis data to quantify the relative importance of snowmelt, soil moisture and spring precipitation in contributing to the unprecedented flood and to demonstrate how the 2011 flood was unique compared to previous floods in the basin. Data and research from this study can be used to validate and improve flood forecasting techniques over this important basin; our findings also raise important questions regarding the impact of climate change on basins that experience pluvial and nival flooding.