During the afternoon of August 19, 1971, an intense thunderstorm a few miles southwest of Wikieup, Arizona, produced one of the largest known flood peaks for a 49.2-square-km drainage basin. Initial computations of the peak discharge assumed stable flow conditions and a four-section slope area measurement indicated that discharge was 2,082 m3/s. Recent findings based on free-surface instability characteristics at the site suggest that gravitational forces exceeded boundary retarding forces, and flow in the wide sand channel was unstable. Computations for roll or translatory waves indicate that waves crashed into the highway bridge at velocities of as much as 12.5 m/s. The close agreement of free surface instability results, translatory wave computations, estimates of the steady flow on which the translatory waves traveled, and an eyewitness account of the translatory waves suggest the total peak discharge could have been 2,742 m3/s or 32% greater than the published discharge. The occurrence of translatory waves in natural channels may be more common than previously thought, and instability criteria should be considered for hydraulic analysis of flow in steep smooth channels.
Additional publication details
Potential effects of translatory waves on estimation of peak flows