Past estimates of the 100-year flood for the Santa Cruz River at Tucson, Arizona, range from 572 to 2,780 cubic meters per second. An apparent increase in flood magnitude during the past two decades raises concern that the annual flood series is nonstationary in time. The apparent increase is accompanied by more annual floods occurring in fall and winter and fewer in summer. This greater mixture of storm types that produce annual flood peaks is caused by a higher frequency of meridional flow in the upper-air circulation and increased variance of ocean-atmosphere conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Estimation of flood frequency on the Santa Cruz River is complicated because climate affects the magnitude and frequency of storms that cause floods. Mean discharge does not change significantly, but the variance and skew coefficient of the distribution of annual floods change with time. The 100-year flood during El Niffo-Southern Oscillation conditions is 1,300 cubic meters per second, more than double the value for other years. The increase is mostly caused by an increase in recurvature of dissipating tropical cyclones into the Southwestern United States during El Niffo-Southern Oscillation conditions. Flood frequency based on hydroclimatology was determined by combining populations of floods caused by monsoonal storms, frontal systems, and dissipating tropical cyclones. For 1930-59, annual flood frequency is dominated by monsoonal floods, and the estimated 100-year flood is 323 cubic meters per second. For 1960-86, annual flood frequency at recurrence intervals of greater than 10 years is dominated by floods caused by dissipating tropical cyclones, and the estimated 100-year flood is 1,660 cubic meters per second. For design purposes, 1,660 cubic meters per second might be an appropriate value for the 100-year flood at Tucson, assuming that climatic conditions during 1960-86 are representative of conditions expected in the immediate future.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Climatic variability and flood frequency of the Santa Cruz River, Pima County, Arizona