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Tropical storm Irene flood of August 2011 in northwestern Massachusetts

September 2, 2016

A Presidential disaster was declared in northwestern Massachusetts, following flooding from tropical storm Irene on August 28, 2011. During the storm, 3 to 10 inches of rain fell on soils that were susceptible to flash flooding because of wet antecedent conditions. The gage height at one U.S. Geological Survey streamgage rose nearly 20 feet in less than 4 hours because of the combination of saturated soils and intense rainfall. On August 28, 2011, in the Deerfield and Hoosic River Basins in northwestern Massachusetts, new peaks of record were set at six of eight U.S. Geological Survey long-term streamgages with 46 to 100 years of record. Additionally, high-water marks were surveyed and indirect measurements of peak discharge were calculated at two discontinued streamgages in the Deerfield and Hoosic River Basins with 24 and 61 years of record, respectively. This data resulted in new historic peaks of record at the two discontinued streamgages from tropical storm Irene.

Peak flows that resulted from tropical storm Irene (August 28, 2011) were determined at the U.S. Geological Survey streamgages by using stage-discharge rating curves and indirect computation methods. For six streamgages, indirect computation methods were used to compute the peak flows. Peak flows from tropical storm Irene had annual exceedance probabilities (AEPs) that ranged from 5.4 percent to less than 0.2 percent at 10 streamgages in northwestern Massachusetts.

Discharges calculated for select AEPs as a part of this study were compared with discharges published for the same AEPs in the effective Federal Emergency Management Agency flood insurance studies (FISs) for communities in the study area. Discharges estimated for the 10-, 2-, 1-, and 0.2-percent AEPs at two streamgages on the main stem of the Deerfield River ranged from about 3 percent lower to 14 percent higher than discharges in the FISs. AEP discharges calculated for two streamgages on tributaries to the Deerfield River were 27 to 89 percent higher than the FISs. For the four streamgages in the Hoosic River Basin, the 10-, 2-, 1-, and 0.2-percent AEP discharges calculated ranged from about 33 percent lower to 5 percent higher than the FISs.

The simulated 1-percent AEP discharge water-surface elevations (nonregulatory) from recent (2015–16) hydraulic models for river reaches in the study area, which include the Deerfield, Green, and North Rivers in the Deerfield River Basin and the Hoosic River in the Hoosic River Basin, were compared with water-surface profiles in the FISs. The water-surface elevation comparisons were generally done downstream and upstream from bridges, dams, and major tributaries. The simulated 1-percent AEP discharge water-surface elevations of the recent hydraulic studies averaged 2.2, 2.3, 0.3, and 0.7 ft higher than water-surface elevations in the FISs for the Deerfield, Green, North, and Hoosic Rivers, respectively. The differences in water-surface elevations between the recent (2015–16) hydraulic studies and the FISs likely are because of (1) improved land elevation data from light detection and ranging (lidar) data collected in 2012, (2) detailed surveying of hydraulic structures and cross sections throughout the river reaches in 2012–13 (reflecting structure and cross section changes during the last 30–35 years), (3) updated hydrology analyses (30–35 water years of additional peak flow data at streamgages), and (4) high-water marks from the 2011 tropical storm Irene flood being used for model calibration.

Publication Year 2016
Title Tropical storm Irene flood of August 2011 in northwestern Massachusetts
DOI 10.3133/sir20165027
Authors Gardner C. Bent, Scott A. Olson, Andrew J. Massey
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2016-5027
Index ID sir20165027
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Massachusetts Water Science Center