Understanding the accuracy of commonly used methods for estimating peak streamflows is important because the designs of bridges, culverts, and other river structures are based on these flows. Different methods for estimating peak streamflows were analyzed for small drainage basins in Maine. For the smallest basins, with drainage areas of 0.2 to 1.0 square mile, nine peak streamflows from actual rainfall events at four crest-stage gaging stations were modeled by the Rational Method and the Natural Resource Conservation Service TR-20 method and compared to observed peak flows. The Rational Method had a root mean square error (RMSE) of -69.7 to 230 percent (which means that approximately two thirds of the modeled flows were within -69.7 to 230 percent of the observed flows). The TR-20 method had an RMSE of -98.0 to 5,010 percent. Both the Rational Method and TR-20 underestimated the observed flows in most cases.
For small basins, with drainage areas of 1.0 to 10 square miles, modeled peak flows were compared to observed statistical peak flows with return periods of 2, 50, and 100 years for 17 streams in Maine and adjoining parts of New Hampshire. Peak flows were modeled by the Rational Method, the Natural Resources Conservation Service TR-20 method, U.S. Geological Survey regression equations, and the Probabilistic Rational Method.
The regression equations were the most accurate method of computing peak flows in Maine for streams with drainage areas of 1.0 to 10 square miles with an RMSE of -34.3 to 52.2 percent for 50-year peak flows. The Probabilistic Rational Method was the next most accurate method (-38.5 to 62.6 percent). The Rational Method (-56.1 to 128 percent) and particularly the TR-20 method (-76.4 to 323 percent) had much larger errors. Both the TR-20 and regression methods had similar numbers of underpredictions and overpredictions. The Rational Method overpredicted most peak flows and the Probabilistic Rational Method tended to overpredict peak flows from the smaller (less than 5 square miles) drainage basins and underpredict peak flows from larger drainage basins. The results of this study are consistent with the most comprehensive analysis of observed and modeled peak streamflows in the United States, which analyzed statistical peak flows from 70 drainage basins in the Midwest and the Northwest.
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USGS Numbered Series
Comparison of Peak-Flow Estimation Methods for Small Drainage Basins in Maine