Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Magnitude of flood flows for selected annual exceedance probabilities for streams in Massachusetts

May 10, 2017

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, determined the magnitude of flood flows at selected annual exceedance prob­abilities (AEPs) at streamgages in Massachusetts and from these data developed equations for estimating flood flows at ungaged locations in the State. Flood magnitudes were deter­mined for the 50-, 20-, 10-, 4-, 2-, 1-, 0.5-, and 0.2-percent AEPs at 220 streamgages, 125 of which are in Massachusetts and 95 are in the adjacent States of Connecticut, New Hamp­shire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. AEP flood flows were computed for streamgages using the expected moments algorithm weighted with a recently computed regional skew­ness coefficient for New England.

Regional regression equations were developed to estimate the magnitude of floods for selected AEP flows at ungaged sites from 199 selected streamgages and for 60 potential explanatory basin characteristics. AEP flows for 21 of the 125 streamgages in Massachusetts were not used in the final regional regression analysis, primarily because of regulation or redundancy. The final regression equations used general­ized least squares methods to account for streamgage record length and correlation. Drainage area, mean basin elevation, and basin storage explained 86 to 93 percent of the variance in flood magnitude from the 50- to 0.2-percent AEPs, respec­tively. The estimates of AEP flows at streamgages can be improved by using a weighted estimate that is based on the magnitude of the flood and associated uncertainty from the at-site analysis and the regional regression equations. Weighting procedures for estimating AEP flows at an ungaged site on a gaged stream also are provided that improve estimates of flood flows at the ungaged site when hydrologic characteristics do not abruptly change.

Urbanization expressed as the percentage of imperviousness provided some explanatory power in the regional regression; however, it was not statistically significant at the 95-percent confidence level for any of the AEPs examined. The effect of urbanization on flood flows indicates a complex interaction with other basin characteristics. Another complicating factor is the assumption of stationarity, that is, the assumption that annual peak flows exhibit no significant trend over time. The results of the analysis show that stationarity does not prevail at all of the streamgages. About 27 percent of streamgages in Massachusetts and about 42 percent of streamgages in adjacent States with 20 or more years of systematic record used in the study show a significant positive trend at the 95-percent confidence level. The remaining streamgages had both positive and negative trends, but the trends were not statistically significant. Trends were shown to vary over time. In particular, during the past decade (2004–2013), peak flows were persistently above normal, which may give the impression of positive trends. Only continued monitoring will provide the information needed to determine whether recent increases in annual peak flows are a normal oscillation or a true trend.

The analysis used 37 years of additional data obtained since the last comprehensive study of flood flows in Massa­chusetts. In addition, new methods for computing flood flows at streamgages and regionalization improved estimates of flood magnitudes at gaged and ungaged locations and better defined the uncertainty of the estimates of AEP floods.

Publication Year 2017
Title Magnitude of flood flows for selected annual exceedance probabilities for streams in Massachusetts
DOI 10.3133/sir20165156
Authors Phillip J. Zarriello
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5156
Index ID sir20165156
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Massachusetts Water Science Center