Magnitude of flood flows for selected annual exceedance probabilities for streams in Massachusetts

Scientific Investigations Report 2016-5156

Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation



The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, determined the magnitude of flood flows at selected annual exceedance prob­abilities (AEPs) at streamgages in Massachusetts and from these data developed equations for estimating flood flows at ungaged locations in the State. Flood magnitudes were deter­mined for the 50-, 20-, 10-, 4-, 2-, 1-, 0.5-, and 0.2-percent AEPs at 220 streamgages, 125 of which are in Massachusetts and 95 are in the adjacent States of Connecticut, New Hamp­shire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. AEP flood flows were computed for streamgages using the expected moments algorithm weighted with a recently computed regional skew­ness coefficient for New England.

Regional regression equations were developed to estimate the magnitude of floods for selected AEP flows at ungaged sites from 199 selected streamgages and for 60 potential explanatory basin characteristics. AEP flows for 21 of the 125 streamgages in Massachusetts were not used in the final regional regression analysis, primarily because of regulation or redundancy. The final regression equations used general­ized least squares methods to account for streamgage record length and correlation. Drainage area, mean basin elevation, and basin storage explained 86 to 93 percent of the variance in flood magnitude from the 50- to 0.2-percent AEPs, respec­tively. The estimates of AEP flows at streamgages can be improved by using a weighted estimate that is based on the magnitude of the flood and associated uncertainty from the at-site analysis and the regional regression equations. Weighting procedures for estimating AEP flows at an ungaged site on a gaged stream also are provided that improve estimates of flood flows at the ungaged site when hydrologic characteristics do not abruptly change.

Urbanization expressed as the percentage of imperviousness provided some explanatory power in the regional regression; however, it was not statistically significant at the 95-percent confidence level for any of the AEPs examined. The effect of urbanization on flood flows indicates a complex interaction with other basin characteristics. Another complicating factor is the assumption of stationarity, that is, the assumption that annual peak flows exhibit no significant trend over time. The results of the analysis show that stationarity does not prevail at all of the streamgages. About 27 percent of streamgages in Massachusetts and about 42 percent of streamgages in adjacent States with 20 or more years of systematic record used in the study show a significant positive trend at the 95-percent confidence level. The remaining streamgages had both positive and negative trends, but the trends were not statistically significant. Trends were shown to vary over time. In particular, during the past decade (2004–2013), peak flows were persistently above normal, which may give the impression of positive trends. Only continued monitoring will provide the information needed to determine whether recent increases in annual peak flows are a normal oscillation or a true trend.

The analysis used 37 years of additional data obtained since the last comprehensive study of flood flows in Massa­chusetts. In addition, new methods for computing flood flows at streamgages and regionalization improved estimates of flood magnitudes at gaged and ungaged locations and better defined the uncertainty of the estimates of AEP floods.

Suggested Citation

Zarriello, P.J., 2017, Magnitude of flood flows at selected annual exceedance probabilities for streams in Massachusetts: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5156, 54 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Magnitude of Flood Flows at Streamgages
  • Magnitude of Flood Flows at Ungaged Streams
  • Factors Affecting Flood Flow Estimates 
  • Application of Methods and Significance of Results
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Glossary
  • Appendix 1. Basin and Climate Characteristics Considered for Use as Explanatory Variables in the Regional Regression Analysis for Estimating Flood Flows in Massachusetts
  • Appendix 2. Measurement of Regression Error for Massachusetts
  • Appendix 3. Applications for Estimating Annual Exceedance Probability Flood Flows and 90-Percent Prediction Intervals at Ungaged Sites, and Estimating Flood Flows Upstream and Downstream of Gaged Sites in Massachusetts

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Magnitude of flood flows for selected annual exceedance probabilities for streams in Massachusetts
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Massachusetts Water Science Center
Report: ix, 54 p.; Tables; 1 Appendix
United States
Online Only (Y/N):
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