Critical rainfall statistics for predicting watershed flood responses: rethinking the design storm concept

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Recent advances have been made to modernize estimates of probable precipitation scenarios; however, researchers and engineers often continue to assume that rainfall events can be described by a small set of event statistics, typically average intensity and event duration. Given the easy availability of precipitation data and advances in desk-top computational tools, we suggest that it is time to rethink the ‘design storm’ concept. Design storms should include more holistic characteristics of flood-inducing rain events, which, in addition to describing specific hydrologic responses, may also be watershed or regionally specific.We present a sensitivity analysis of nine precipitation event statistics from observed precipitation events within a 60-year record for Tompkins County, NY, USA. We perform a two-sample Kolmogorov–Smirnov (KS) test to objectively identify precipitation event statistics of importance for two related hydrologic responses: (1) peak outflow from the Six Mile Creek watershed and (2) peak depth within the reservoir behind the Six Mile Creek Dam. We identify the total precipitation depth, peak hourly intensity, average intensity, event duration, interevent duration, and several statistics defining the temporal distribution of precipitation events to be important rainfall statistics to consider for predicting the watershed flood responses. We found that the two hydrologic responses had different sets of statistically significant parameters.We demonstrate through a stochastic precipitation generation analysis the effects of starting from a constrained parameter set (intensity and duration) when predicting hydrologic responses as opposed to utilizing an expanded suite of rainfall statistics. In particular, we note that the reduced precipitation parameter set may underestimate the probability of high stream flows and therefore underestimate flood hazard. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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