On the role of soil moisture in the generation of heavy rainfall during the Oder flood event in July 1997


Soil moisture–atmosphere feedbacks play an important role in the regional climate over many regions worldwide, not only for the mean climate but also for extreme events. Several studies have shown that the extent and severity of droughts and heat waves can be significantly impacted by dry or wet soil moisture conditions. To date, the impact of soil moisture on heavy rainfall events has been less frequently investigated. Thus, we consider the role of soil moisture in the formation of heavy rainfall using the Oder flood event in July 1997 as an example. Here, we used the regional climate model CCLM as an uncoupled standalone model and the coupled COSTRICE system, where CCLM is coupled with an ocean and a sea ice model over the Baltic and North Sea regions. The results from climate simulations over Europe show that the coupled model can capture the second phase (18–20 July) of heavy rainfall that led to the Oder flood, while the uncoupled model does not. Sensitivity experiments demonstrate that the better performance of the coupled model can be attributed to the simulated soil moisture conditions in July 1997 in Central Europe, which were wetter for the coupled model than for the uncoupled model. This finding indicates that the soil moisture preceding the event significantly impacted the generation of heavy rainfall in this second phase. The better simulation in the coupled model also implies the added value that the atmosphere–ocean coupling has on the simulation of this specific extreme event. As none of the model versions captured the first phase (4–8 July), despite the differences in soil moisture, it can be concluded that the importance of soil moisture for the generation of heavy rainfall events strongly depends on the event and the general circulation pattern associated with it.
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