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The Kerala flood of 2018: combined impact of extreme rainfall and reservoir storage

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This paper is available in a repository.

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Extreme precipitation events and flooding that cause losses to human lives and infrastructure have increased under the warming climate. In August 2018, the state of Kerala (India) witnessed large-scale flooding, which affected millions of people and caused 400 or more deaths. Here, we examine the return period of extreme rainfall and the potential role of reservoirs in the recent flooding in Kerala. We show that Kerala experienced 53 % above normal rainfall during the monsoon season (till August 21st) of 2018. Moreover, 1, 2, and 3-day extreme rainfall in Kerala during August 2018 had return periods of 75, 200, and 100 years. Six out of seven major reservoirs were at more than 90 % of their full capacity on August 8, 2018, before extreme rainfall in Kerala. Extreme rainfall at 1–15 days durations in August 2018 in the catchments upstream of the three major reservoirs (Idukki, Kakki, and Periyar) had the return period of more than 500 years. Extreme rainfall and almost full reservoirs resulted in a significant release of water in a short-span of time. Therefore, above normal seasonal rainfall (before August 8, 2018), high reservoir storage, and unprecedented extreme rainfall in the catchments where reservoirs are located worsened the flooding in Kerala. Reservoir operations need be improved using a skillful forecast of extreme rainfall at the longer lead time (4–7 days).

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