Paleohydrologic techniques used to define the spatial occurrence of floods




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Defining the cause and spatial characteristics of floods may be difficult because of limited streamflow and precipitation data. New paleohydrologic techniques that incorporate information from geomorphic, sedimentologic, and botanic studies provide important supplemental information to define homogeneous hydrologic regions. These techniques also help to define the spatial structure of rainstorms and floods and improve regional flood-frequency estimates. The occurrence and the non-occurrence of paleohydrologic evidence of floods, such as flood bars, alluvial fans, and tree scars, provide valuable hydrologic information. The paleohydrologic research to define the spatial characteristics of floods improves the understanding of flood hydrometeorology. This research was used to define the areal extent and contributing drainage area of flash floods in Colorado. Also, paleohydrologic evidence was used to define the spatial boundaries for the Colorado foothills region in terms of the meteorologic cause of flooding and elevation. In general, above 2300 m, peak flows are caused by snowmelt. Below 2300 m, peak flows primarily are caused by rainfall. The foothills region has an upper elevation limit of about 2300 m and a lower elevation limit of about 1500 m. Regional flood-frequency estimates that incorporate the paleohydrologic information indicate that the Big Thompson River flash flood of 1976 had a recurrence interval of approximately 10,000 years. This contrasts markedly with 100 to 300 years determined by using conventional hydrologic analyses. Flood-discharge estimates based on rainfall-runoff methods in the foothills of Colorado result in larger values than those estimated with regional flood-frequency relations, which are based on long-term streamflow data. Preliminary hydrologic and paleohydrologic research indicates that intense rainfall does not occur at higher elevations in other Rocky Mountain states and that the highest elevations for rainfall-producing floods vary by latitude. The study results have implications for floodplain management and design of hydraulic structures in the mountains of Colorado and other Rocky Mountain States. ?? 1990.

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