In a world of changing weather and rainfall patterns, engineers face challenges when designing stormwater management systems.
A Kansas State University team is researching how climate change is affecting rainfall and weather patterns throughout Kansas to help with future adaptation and mitigation strategies. The research team, led by Stacy Hutchinson, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering, is updating rainfall distribution data to ensure current stormwater management systems can handle future weather changes.
“We are looking at how the state can minimize risk by developing a better understanding of past weather variability while looking forward at the variability expected with future climate change — whether it is farm production systems or stormwater management,” Hutchinson said.
Collaborators on the project include Shawn Hutchinson, associate professor of geography; Aavudai Anandhi Swamy, research assistant professor of agronomy; and Vahid Rahmani, doctoral student in biological and agricultural engineering, Iran. Rahmani is researching Kansas rainfall data and recently received a first-place award at the K-State Research Forum for his oral presentation “Intense rainfall events distribution pattern in the state of Kansas.”
“Our research involves understanding how climate change and land cover change — which is the conversion of natural prairie land and agricultural land to urban and suburban land uses — affect the potential for flooding,” Hutchinson said. “It’s where the variability of reality meets the built engineered world.”
When engineers design stormwater management systems — such as terraces and grass waterways in crop fields or storm sewers with underground pipes that transport road runoff to the nearest body of water — these systems are usually designed to handle a specific storm. In the Manhattan area, natural systems such as grassed waterways and terraces are designed to handle slightly more than 3.5 inches of rain in 24 hours. This rainfall event is expected to happen once every 10 years.
Issues arise because the National Weather Service has not updated rainfall distribution maps for the state of Kansas since 1961. Researchers are updating this data to provide a more accurate weather benchmark that engineers can use when designing stormwater systems. Kansas is ideal for studying climate change and variability because there is more variability across Kansas than from the eastern edge of Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean, Hutchinson said.
To track weather patterns and understand how they have changed, the researchers conducted a similar analysis as the 1961 data. Rahmani studied weather and rainfall data from 24 weather stations in Kansas and 15 stations outside the state.