Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Estimating flood magnitude and frequency at gaged and ungaged sites on streams in Alaska and conterminous basins in Canada, based on data through water year 2012

March 16, 2016

Estimates of the magnitude and frequency of floods are needed across Alaska for engineering design of transportation and water-conveyance structures, flood-insurance studies, flood-plain management, and other water-resource purposes. This report updates methods for estimating flood magnitude and frequency in Alaska and conterminous basins in Canada. Annual peak-flow data through water year 2012 were compiled from 387 streamgages on unregulated streams with at least 10 years of record. Flood-frequency estimates were computed for each streamgage using the Expected Moments Algorithm to fit a Pearson Type III distribution to the logarithms of annual peak flows. A multiple Grubbs-Beck test was used to identify potentially influential low floods in the time series of peak flows for censoring in the flood frequency analysis.

For two new regional skew areas, flood-frequency estimates using station skew were computed for stations with at least 25 years of record for use in a Bayesian least-squares regression analysis to determine a regional skew value. The consideration of basin characteristics as explanatory variables for regional skew resulted in improvements in precision too small to warrant the additional model complexity, and a constant model was adopted. Regional Skew Area 1 in eastern-central Alaska had a regional skew of 0.54 and an average variance of prediction of 0.45, corresponding to an effective record length of 22 years. Regional Skew Area 2, encompassing coastal areas bordering the Gulf of Alaska, had a regional skew of 0.18 and an average variance of prediction of 0.12, corresponding to an effective record length of 59 years. Station flood-frequency estimates for study sites in regional skew areas were then recomputed using a weighted skew incorporating the station skew and regional skew. In a new regional skew exclusion area outside the regional skew areas, the density of long-record streamgages was too sparse for regional analysis and station skew was used for all estimates. Final station flood frequency estimates for all study streamgages are presented for the 50-, 20-, 10-, 4-, 2-, 1-, 0.5-, and 0.2-percent annual exceedance probabilities.

Regional multiple-regression analysis was used to produce equations for estimating flood frequency statistics from explanatory basin characteristics. Basin characteristics, including physical and climatic variables, were updated for all study streamgages using a geographical information system and geospatial source data. Screening for similar-sized nested basins eliminated hydrologically redundant sites, and screening for eligibility for analysis of explanatory variables eliminated regulated peaks, outburst peaks, and sites with indeterminate basin characteristics. An ordinary least‑squares regression used flood-frequency statistics and basin characteristics for 341 streamgages (284 in Alaska and 57 in Canada) to determine the most suitable combination of basin characteristics for a flood-frequency regression model and to explore regional grouping of streamgages for explaining variability in flood-frequency statistics across the study area. The most suitable model for explaining flood frequency used drainage area and mean annual precipitation as explanatory variables for the entire study area as a region. Final regression equations for estimating the 50-, 20-, 10-, 4-, 2-, 1-, 0.5-, and 0.2-percent annual exceedance probability discharge in Alaska and conterminous basins in Canada were developed using a generalized least-squares regression. The average standard error of prediction for the regression equations for the various annual exceedance probabilities ranged from 69 to 82 percent, and the pseudo-coefficient of determination (pseudo-R2) ranged from 85 to 91 percent.

The regional regression equations from this study were incorporated into the U.S. Geological Survey StreamStats program for a limited area of the State—the Cook Inlet Basin. StreamStats is a national web-based geographic information system application that facilitates retrieval of streamflow statistics and associated information. StreamStats retrieves published data for gaged sites and, for user-selected ungaged sites, delineates drainage areas from topographic and hydrographic data, computes basin characteristics, and computes flood frequency estimates using the regional regression equations.