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Hydraulics and basin morphometry of the largest flash floods in the conterminous United States

January 1, 1987

The maximum rainfall-runoff floods measured by indirect methods in small basins (0.39-370 km2) in the conterminous United States are examined. This analysis identified twelve floods that were the largest ever measured. These floods all occurred in semiarid to arid areas. For eleven of the twelve largest rainfall-runoff floods measured in small basins by the slope-area method, values of hydraulic depth; hydraulic radius; width-depth ratio; n value; mean velocity; velocity-head coefficient; Froude number; water-surface, energy, and channel slopes; shear stress; and unit stream power are tabulated. Estimated composite n values weighted by subsection conveyance range from 0.028 to 0.048 with a mean of 0.038. Mean velocities ranged from 3.47 to 9.97 m s-1. Froude numbers ranged from 0.81 to 2.49, with 9 of 12 floods having values greater than 1.00. Water-surface, energy, and channel slopes vary considerably for each flood. Energy slope always was less than water-surface slope by values of 1-104%. Channel slope was greater than energy slope in eight floods. Shear stresses ranged between 61 and 855 N m-2, and unit stream power from 212 to 8131 w m-1. Floods in these small basins produced shear stresses and unit stream powers several hundred times greater than floods in large rivers. Floods on other small streams, with smaller unit discharges, produced greater shear stresses and stream powers. This indicates that the force of a flood is controlled by the depth-slope product, not absolute discharge. In the twelve watersheds studied, basin relief ranged from 165 to 1280 m, elongation ratios ranged from 0.55 to 0.80, the number of first-order streams (basin magnitude) ranged from 10 to 4297, drainage density ranged from 4.1 to 10.9 km km-2, basin slope ranged from 0.0043 to 0.2486, relief ratio ranged from 0.0097 to 0.34, ruggedness number ranged from 0.69 to 7.17, and first-order channel frequency ranged from 5.1 to 38.6 km-2. Elongation ratios were larger, and drainage density and first-order channel frequency lower, than other small flash-flood prone basins in the United States. These twelve basins have neither the most favorable morphometric characteristics which contribute to flash-flood peaks, nor did the storms causing these flash floods have the greatest short-duration intensities. Maximum flood peaks originate from an optimal combination of basin morphology and physiography, and storm intensity. ?? 1987.

Publication Year 1987
Title Hydraulics and basin morphometry of the largest flash floods in the conterminous United States
Authors J. E. Costa
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrology
Index ID 70014239
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Hazards Program; Volcano Science Center