The record for most rainfall in a single hour is 12 inches (30.5 cm), set in Holt, Missouri, in 1947. What is the maximum amount of rainfall that could theoretically occur in an hour?

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    $\begingroup$ An answer might want to mention implausible amounts of rainfall predicted by NWP models in 'grid point storms'. There is a good discussion in Bechtold, Numerical Weather Prediction Parameterization of diabatic processes, ECMWF $\endgroup$ – hertzsprung Aug 2 '15 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think any upper bound will be found to be "realistic," because even what we think of as extremely heavy rain events are rare in most individuals' experiences. $\endgroup$ – WBT Sep 17 '15 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Turns out there are lots of empirical models around. Seems like the world-record data could help constrain some upper limit calculation. I think the best answer will combine these two approaches. $\endgroup$ – kwinkunks Sep 23 '15 at 12:02

From http://www.srh.noaa.gov/eax/?n=holtmorecrain1947

A very moist airmass was in place across Missouri during the afternoon and evening of 22 June 1947, as evident by dewpoint temperatures in the middle 70s across Missouri during the afternoon hours

Advances in meteorological science led Locatelli to speculate that the thunderstorm that produced the historic rainfall of 22 June 1947, did not develop along a classic surface cold front, but to the east of a surface dryline (drytrough) and underneath a cold front aloft that had origins in the Mexican plateau. Regardless of the causative surface and upper air features, a complex of storms at a scale not measured well in the data-spare period of the 1940s developed near Kansas City and moved across Holt, Missouri, depositing 12 inches of rain in less than one hour. Rain continued to fall on Holt after the 12 inch deluge for the next couple hours, but only amounted to an additional one-half inch.

A rare meteorological event occurred that day. I offer a semi-empirical frame of reference that takes into account that the most extreme rainfall rates occur for a short duration (e.g. a few minutes).

In "A methodology to classify extreme rainfall events in the western mediterranean area" by Casas et al., (2004): http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00704-003-0003-x they show rain rates of up to 0.5 cm/min sustained for several minutes (based on a large network of rain monitors in Barcelona). IF that could somehow be sustained for an hour, that would give a rate of 30 cm/hr (which is what Holt saw).

For comparison, the most extreme rainfall rate measured in one minute in the USA is 3.1 cm (1.2 in; see http://wmo.asu.edu/world-greatest-one-minute-rainfall ). Actual rain doesn't continue at such an extreme rate for much longer, but would equate to 186 cm per hour (6 times what Holt, Missouri saw in 1946). The link that kwinkunks provides http://www.bom.gov.au/water/designRainfalls/rainfallEvents/worldRecRainfall.shtml shows a world rate record of 3.8 cm/min which, if sustained, would equate to 228 cm per hour.

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    $\begingroup$ These statistics are really interesting. It strikes me that considering global records should get us closer to the limit. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology suggests 38 mm/min is the record, and 401 mm in one hour. It seems reasonable that these numbers would be close to — just below — the physical limit... So I guess the challenge is to estimate how close with some theory. An agreement within a few percent would be compelling. $\endgroup$ – kwinkunks Sep 17 '15 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @kwinkunks thanks for linking to this list that has examples that are higher than the "records" listed above. $\endgroup$ – farrenthorpe Sep 17 '15 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ I just want to go on the record and say that just because the bounty was auto-awarded does not mean I think this question has been answered. See my comment on the question. (I'm not saying this is a bad answer, just that it's not the answer I was looking for with the bounty.) $\endgroup$ – kwinkunks Sep 25 '15 at 12:52

The maximum one-hour rainfall may be 305 mm in America, or 401 mm in Australia, but it certainly isn't the world record measurement, which is in the region of 450 to 500 mm (based upon the global rainfall intensity envelope). The maximum possible is governed by three factors, namely 1) the precipitable moisture in the air column, which is a non-linear function of temperature, assuming no limiting evaporation upwind, 2) the dynamics of condensation, assuming no limitation on the availability of raindrop nuclei, and 3) the lateral advective delivery of moisture. This means that the maximum rainfall is likely to be on the windward side of a high mountain in a tropical oceanic island. We will probably never be able to measure the maximum rainfall because, by its nature, it will be in a very windy exposed site, where it is notoriously difficult if not impossible to measure the rainfall accurately. Also, consider the open area of a rain-gauge funnel, and the probability of that just happening to be in the right place to measure the maximum rainfall over many square kilometers. A good description of the probable maximum precipitation is given by Greiser in: http://www.juergen-grieser.de/extremerain_standalone.pdf

  • $\begingroup$ The record 1-hour rainfall was in Shangdi, Nei Monggol, China — not Australia — in 1975. I don't know what the 'global rainfall intensity envelope' is, but 401 mm does in fact seem to be the 1-hour record... unless you have other data? $\endgroup$ – kwinkunks Sep 26 '15 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ Nowhere in Australia are conditions optimal for achieving the world maximum 1-hour rainfall, so I am very suspicious of of the 401 mm claim. None of the likely candidates, such as the Meghalaya hills, Asuncion island, or 'cloudbursts' in monsoon SE Asia, have either ideal instrumentation, nor adequate raingauge network density to have much chance of measuring the maximum accurately. $\endgroup$ – Gordon Stanger Oct 4 '15 at 1:35
  • $\begingroup$ As I said in my comment, if you look at the table you'll see that it was not in Australia, it was in China. If you have better data, please link to it. $\endgroup$ – kwinkunks Oct 4 '15 at 11:31

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