Local and remote moisture sources for extreme precipitation: a study of the two catastrophic 1982 western Mediterranean episodes
Floods and flash floods are frequent in the south of Europe resulting from heavy rainfall events that often produce more than 200 mm in less than 24 h. Even though the meteorological conditions favourable for these situations have been widely studied, there is a lingering question that still arises: what humidity sources could explain so much precipitation? To answer this question, the regional atmospheric Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model with a recently implemented moisture tagging capability has been used to analyse the main moisture sources for two catastrophic flood events that occurred during the autumn of 1982 (October and November) in the western Mediterranean area, which is regularly affected by these types of adverse weather episodes. The procedure consists in selecting a priori potential moisture source regions for the extreme event under consideration, and then performing simulations using the tagging technique to quantify the relative contribution of each selected source to total precipitation. For these events we study the influence of four possible potential sources: (1) evaporation in the western Mediterranean; (2) evaporation in the central Mediterranean; (3) evaporation in the North Atlantic; and (4) advection from the tropical and subtropical Atlantic and Africa. Results show that these four moisture sources explain most of the accumulated precipitation, with the tropical and subtropical input being the most relevant in both cases. In the October event, evaporation in the western and central Mediterranean and in the North Atlantic also had an important contribution. However, in the November episode tropical and subtropical moisture accounted for more than half of the total accumulated rainfall, while evaporation in the western Mediterranean and North Atlantic played a secondary role and the contribution of the central Mediterranean was almost negligible. Therefore, remote sources were crucial: in the October event they played a similar role to local sources, whereas in the November case they were clearly dominant. In both episodes, long-distance moisture transport from the tropics and subtropics mostly occurred in mid-tropospheric layers, via well-defined moisture plumes with maximum mixing ratios at medium levels.