The disparity between extreme rainfall events and rare floods - with emphasis on the semi-arid American West

Hydrological Processes
By:  and 



Research beginning 40 years ago suggested that semi-arid lands of the USA have higher unit discharges for a given recurrence interval than occur in other areas. Convincing documentation and arguments for this suspicion, however, were not presented. Thus, records of measured rainfall intensities for specified durations and recurrence intervals, and theoretical depths of probable maximum precipitation for specified recurrence intervals and areal scales are considered here for comparing extreme rainfalls of semi-arid areas with those of other climatic areas. Runoff from semi-arid lands, as peaks of rare floods, is compared with that of other areas using various published records. Relative to humid areas, semi-arid parts of the conterminous USA have lower 100-year, 6-h rainfall intensities and smaller depths of 100-year probable maximum precipitation for 26-km2 areas. Nonetheless, maximum flood peaks, flash-flood potentials, and runoff potentials are generally larger in semi-arid areas than in more humid parts of the nation. Causes of this disparity between rainfall and runoff appear to be results of soil and vegetation that in humid areas absorb and intercept rainfall and attenuate runoff, but in semi-arid areas limit infiltration and enhance runoff from bare, crusted surfaces. These differences in soil and vegetation conditions are indicated by the relatively high curve numbers and drainage densities that are typical of semi-arid areas. Owing to soil and vegetation conditions, rare floods in semi-arid areas are more likely to cause landform change than are floods of similar magnitude elsewhere.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title The disparity between extreme rainfall events and rare floods - with emphasis on the semi-arid American West
Series title Hydrological Processes
DOI 10.1002/1099-1085(200011/12)14:16/17<2817::AID-HYP121>3.0.CO;2-B
Volume 14
Issue 16-17
Year Published 2000
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 2817
Last page 2829
Country United States
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional metadata about this publication, not found in other parts of the page is in this table