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Flood-frequency analysis in the Midwest: Addressing potential nonstationarity of annual peak-flow records

April 1, 2023

Flood-frequency analysis is essential in numerous water-resource management applications, including critical structure design and flood-plain mapping. A basic assumption within Bulletin 17C [1], the standardized guidelines for conducting flood-frequency analysis, is that basins without major hydrologic alterations, such as regulation or urbanization, exhibit stationary statistical properties of the distribution of annual peak streamflow. That is, the mean, variance, and skew are constant over time and the peak-flow record is a representative sample of the population of future floods [1]. In recent decades, better understanding of long-term climatic persistence and concerns about climate and land-use change have caused the assumption of stationarity in peak-flow records to be reexamined [2, 3, 4, 5]. Under nonstationary conditions, the long-term distributional properties (mean, variance, and/or skew) of peak-flow series change one or more times, either gradually or abruptly. Nonstationarities may be attributed to one source, but are often a result of a mixture of drivers, making detection and attribution of nonstationarities challenging [6, 7, 8]. Failure to incorporate observed trends and abrupt changes into flood-frequency analysis may result in a poor representation of the true flood risk. Bulletin 17C currently offers no guidance on how to account for nonstationarities when estimating floods and acknowledges the benefit additional flood frequency studies that incorporate changing climate or basin characteristics into the analysis would provide[1].

Publication Year 2023
Title Flood-frequency analysis in the Midwest: Addressing potential nonstationarity of annual peak-flow records
Authors Mackenzie K. Marti, Karen R. Ryberg, Sara B. Levin
Publication Type Newsletter
Publication Subtype Newsletter
Series Title AASHTO Hydrolink
Index ID 70246314
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Dakota Water Science Center; Central Midwest Water Science Center; Upper Midwest Water Science Center