The Tale of Flooding over the Central United States: Not Bigger but More Frequent

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Iman Mallakpour, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, United States and Gabriele Villarini, University of Iowa, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Iowa City, IA, United States
Flooding over the central United States is responsible for large societal and economic impacts, quantifiable in tens of fatalities and billions of dollars in damage. Because of these large repercussions, it is of paramount importance to examine whether the magnitude and/or frequency of flood events have been changing over the most recent decades.

Here we address this research question using annual and seasonal maximum daily streamflow records from 774 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stations over the central United States (the study area includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan). The focus is on “long” records (i.e., at least 50 years of data) ending no earlier than 2011. Analyses are performed using block-maximum and peak-over-threshold approaches.

We find limited evidence suggesting increasing or decreasing trends in the magnitude of flood peaks over this area. On the other hand, there is much stronger evidence of increasing frequency of flood events. Therefore, our results support the notion that it is not so much that the largest flood peaks are getting larger, but rather that we have been experiencing a larger number of flood events every year. By examining the rainfall records, we are able to link these increasing trends to similar patterns in heavy rainfall over the region.