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The 1993 Mississippi river flood: A one hundred or a one thousand year event?

January 1, 1996

Power-law (fractal) extreme-value statistics are applicable to many natural phenomena under a wide variety of circumstances. Data from a hydrologic station in Keokuk, Iowa, shows the great flood of the Mississippi River in 1993 has a recurrence interval on the order of 100 years using power-law statistics applied to partial-duration flood series and on the order of 1,000 years using a log-Pearson type 3 (LP3) distribution applied to annual series. The LP3 analysis is the federally adopted probability distribution for flood-frequency estimation of extreme events. We suggest that power-law statistics are preferable to LP3 analysis. As a further test of the power-law approach we consider paleoflood data from the Colorado River. We compare power-law and LP3 extrapolations of historical data with these paleo-floods. The results are remarkably similar to those obtained for the Mississippi River: Recurrence intervals from power-law statistics applied to Lees Ferry discharge data are generally consistent with inferred 100- and 1,000-year paleofloods, whereas LP3 analysis gives recurrence intervals that are orders of magnitude longer. For both the Keokuk and Lees Ferry gauges, the use of an annual series introduces an artificial curvature in log-log space that leads to an underestimate of severe floods. Power-law statistics are predicting much shorter recurrence intervals than the federally adopted LP3 statistics. We suggest that if power-law behavior is applicable, then the likelihood of severe floods is much higher. More conservative dam designs and land-use restrictions Nay be required.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1996
Title The 1993 Mississippi river flood: A one hundred or a one thousand year event?
Authors B.D. Malamud, D.L. Turcotte, C.C. Barton
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental & Engineering Geoscience
Series Number
Index ID 70017722
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization