Researchers receive Governor's Award for High-Impact Research

Left to right: Eric James of CIRES and ESRL GSD, Kelly Mahoney of ESRL PSD, Rob Cifelli of ESRL PSD, and Jeff Lukas of CIRES and Western Water Assessment

NOVEMBER 13, 2019 — Congratulations to Kelly Mahoney and Rob Cifelli of ESRL's Physical Sciences Division, Trevor Alcott and Eric James (CIRES) of ESRL's Global Systems Division, and colleague Jeff Lukas of CIRES and the Western Water Assessment who are members of an interdisciplinary team that won a Colorado 2019 Governor's Awards for High-Impact Research for the Pathfinding Partnerships project: "Avoiding deadly floods through innovative partnerships: Estimating extreme precipitation in the 21st century to enhance dam safety and community resilience.”

In the last 100 years, the leading cause of dam failure and resulting loss of life has been overtopping due to inadequate or improperly designed spillways. With increases in severity and frequency of extreme precipitation events, current modeling practices of rain and snowfall has shown to be inadequate for assessing possible public safety issues regarding dams and spillways. Leveraging 21st century scientific and engineering advances and applying creative approaches, a unique federal-state-private sector team of nationally recognized scientists, engineers, public safety officials and dam owners designed and implemented an innovative scientific approach to understanding extreme precipitation in the Rocky Mountain region. The team developed engineering and decision support tools that provide a scientifically defensible basis for determining the risk of extreme precipitation events to guide dam spillway design and to enhance community resilience in a changing climate. The study, and its extensive review board of national experts, was designed with a larger vision: to serve as a national model for other States to follow.

Mahoney is a research meteorologist on PSD’s Hydrometeorology Modeling and Applications Team and currently focuses on improving understanding of how extreme events can be better anticipated from both atmospheric and hydrologic perspectives. Cifelli is a radar meteorologist who focuses on developing improved weather, climate, and water forecasts of extreme events to better meet water management needs. He also leads PSD’s Hydrometeorology Modeling and Applications Team. James and Alcott work to simulate atmospheric phenomena to advance the state of the science for short-range, regional numerical weather prediction. Lukas is a Research Integration Specialist for the Western Water Assessment, a NOAA Climate Program Office Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments team. He collaborates with water resource managers and other stakeholders to better understand and plan for climate-related vulnerabilities in the Rocky Mountain West.

The award was presented at a ceremony on November 12 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

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