The 23–26 September 2012 UK Floods: Using PV Surgery to Quantify Sensitivity to Upper-Level Forcing

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    Major river flooding affected the United Kingdom (UK) in late September 2012 as a slow moving extratropical cyclone brought over 150 mm of rain to parts of northern England and north Wales. The cyclone deepened over the UK on 24–26 September as a potential vorticity (PV) anomaly approached from the northwest, elongated into a PV streamer and wrapped around the cyclone. The strength and position of the PV anomaly is modified in the initial conditions of Weather Research and Forecasting model simulations, using PV surgery, to examine whether different upper-level forcing, or different phasing between the PV anomaly and cyclone, could have produced an even more extreme event. These simulations reveal that quasi-geostrophic (QG) forcing for ascent ahead of the anomaly contributed to the persistence of the rainfall over the UK. Moreover, weakening the anomaly resulted in lower rainfall accumulations across the UK, suggesting that the impact of the event might be proportional to the strength of the upper-level QG forcing. However when the anomaly was strengthened, it rotated cyclonically around a large-scale trough over Iceland rather than moving eastward as in the verifying analysis, with strongly reduced accumulated rainfall across the UK. A similar evolution developed when the anomaly was moved farther away from the cyclone. Conversely, moving the anomaly nearer to the cyclone produced a similar solution to the verifying analysis, with slightly increased rainfall totals. These counterintuitive results suggest that the verifying analysis represented almost the highest-impact scenario possible for this flooding event when accounting for sensitivity to the initial position and strength of the PV anomaly.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4055-4079
    Number of pages25
    JournalMonthly Weather Review
    Issue number10
    Early online date27 Sept 2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • Cyclogenesis/cyclolysis
    • Extratropical cyclones
    • Flood events
    • Mesoscale models
    • Potential vorticity


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