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Peak streamflow trends in Missouri and their relation to changes in climate, water years 1921–2020

April 15, 2024

This report characterizes changes in peak streamflow in Missouri and the relation of these changes to climatic variability, and provides a foundation for future studies that can address nonstationarity in peak-streamflow frequency analysis in Missouri. Records of annual peak and daily streamflow at streamgages and gridded monthly climatic data (observed and modeled) were examined across four trend periods (100 years, water years 1921–2020; 75 years, 1946–2020; 50 years, 1971–2020; and 30 years, 1991–2020) for trends, change points (abrupt changes in the streamflow time series), and other statistical properties indicative of changing conditions. Peak streamflow magnitudes generally exhibit upward trends across the State for the 100-, 75-, and 50-year trend periods and only in southern Missouri for the 30-year trend period. The medians of the trend magnitudes (normalized by median peak streamflow) range from a 10-percent increase during the 30-year trend period to a 40-percent increase during the 100-year trend period. Changes in the 90-percent quantile of peak streamflow, which correspond to the 10-percent exceedance probability often used for the design of drainage structures, are not as substantial or widespread, showing consistent increases mainly in the southern part of the State in the 50- and 30-year trend periods. Streamgages with trends in peak streamflow often also have change points, or abrupt changes, in streamflow magnitude. Change points in peak streamflows generally follow that of the peak streamflow trends, with upward change points throughout most of the State at the 100- and 75-year trend periods and in southern Missouri at the 30-year trend period. Temporally, clusters upward of change points are observed in the 1970s through 1980s for the 100-, 75-, and 50-year trend periods and around 2006 and 2007 for the 50- and 30-year trend periods.

A peaks-over-threshold analysis, which evaluates changes in the frequency of peak streamflows over a certain threshold, indicates that high flows have increased in frequency at 50 to 64 percent of streamgages in the 100- and 75-year trend periods. Most streamgages in the 50- and 30-year trend periods exhibit no change. Although the frequency of high flows has increased at some streamgages and trend periods in Missouri, these increases are not as widespread as the increases in the magnitude of peak streamflow.

Upward trends in observed temperature and observed annual precipitation dominate in all trend periods, with no downward trends in precipitation and only two somewhat likely downward trends in temperature for the 100-year trend period. Increases in annual precipitation mostly are limited to southern Missouri for the 30-year trend period. The proportion of precipitation falling as snow has largely decreased in the study basins across the State, which is expected in response to increasing temperature. Upward trends in modeled annual runoff, which in this study incorporates only the effects of climatic variation, are observed in the same geographic areas where there are increases in observed annual precipitation. When peak streamflow and climatic trends are considered together, widespread upward trends in peak streamflows for the 100-, 75-, and 50-year trend periods and for the 30-year trend period mainly in southern Missouri (encompassing both trends and abrupt change) appear to be driven largely by increases in precipitation based on spatial patterns and statistical relations.

The prevalence of nonstationarity in peak streamflow in Missouri has important implications for peak-flow frequency analysis. Winter and spring precipitation and the occurrence of extreme precipitation events are expected to increase across the State. If precipitation continues to increase as expected, peak-flow frequency estimates based on older records may no longer represent the hydrologic regime of today, and methods for nonstationary peak-flow frequency analysis may be needed.

Publication Year 2024
Title Peak streamflow trends in Missouri and their relation to changes in climate, water years 1921–2020
DOI 10.3133/sir20235064F
Authors Mackenzie K. Marti, David C. Heimann
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2023-5064
Index ID sir20235064F
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Midwest Water Science Center