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Upper limits for post-wildfire floods and distinction from debris flows

February 21, 2024
Upper magnitude limits and scaling with basin size for post-wildfire floods are unknown. An envelope curve was estimated defining post-wildfire flood upper limits as a function of basin area. We show the importance of separating peak flows by floods versus debris flows. Post-wildfire flood maxima are a constant 43 m3 s−1 km−2 for basins from 0.01 to 23 to 34 km2 and then declining with added basin area according to a power law relation. Intense rainfall spatial scaling may cause the envelope curve threshold at 23 to 34 km2. Post-wildfire flood maxima are smaller than unburned flood maxima for similar basin area. Rainstorm comparisons indicate that post-wildfire floods are triggered by smaller precipitation depths than unburned floods. Post-wildfire exceptional floods are driven by extreme rainfall rates, in contrast to post-wildfire debris flows. Runoff rates for post-wildfire envelope floods are consistent with infiltration-excess runoff. Future increases in precipitation intensity or wildfire frequency and extent could increase post-wildfire flood upper limits.
Publication Year 2024
Title Upper limits for post-wildfire floods and distinction from debris flows
DOI 10.1126/sciadv.adk5713
Authors Brian A. Ebel
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Science
Index ID 70251877
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization WMA - Earth System Processes Division