• Relevance of Flood Heterogeneity to Flood Frequency in Arizona

      Hirschboeck, Katherine; Zamora-Reyes, Diana; Hirschboeck, Katherine; Baker, Victor R.; Valdes, Juan B.; Paretti, Nicholas (The University of Arizona., 2014)
      In the United States, the flood frequency analysis guidelines described in Bulletin 17B are followed to provide reliable flood discharge magnitude estimates for urban floodplain planning and flood insurance studies. The statistical analysis in Bulletin 17B has various assumptions, including that floods are generated by the same type of atmospheric mechanism (flood homogeneity). However, these assumptions should be carefully assessed before proceeding since they might not always be valid and could increase the potential for flood risk. This study focuses on flood frequency analysis from the perspective of flood heterogeneity, the hydrometeorological genesis of each flood event, in Arizona. This was done by analyzing the occurrence and magnitude of individual flood events, which were classified by their flood-producing atmospheric mechanism. Flood frequency curves were derived for each mechanism and combined using a new approach involving the Partial Duration Series peaks. The combined frequency curves were then compared to curves derived from the standard Bulletin 17B method. Results showed that in southern Arizona, the dominant flooding mechanism is characterized by brief, intense, and localized convective precipitation in the summer. However, the dominant flood-producing mechanism in the central Arizona topographic transition zone and at higher elevations is characterized by prolonged and widespread precipitation from synoptic activity in the winter. Tropical cyclone-enhanced precipitation is also an important, but infrequent, flood-producing mechanism throughout the state. Overall, the dominant mechanism does not necessarily produce the largest floods. In such cases flood heterogeneity can have a strong influence on the discharge estimates for the most extreme upper tail probabilities calculated from the flood frequency analysis. Thus, the most frequent floods may impose very little risk of flooding while uncommon floods can impose a much larger one. These results suggest that the flood homogeneity assumption is not valid in many Arizona watersheds. To produce the most accurate discharge estimates possible, it is critical that both analysts and flood managers become aware of the potential repercussions if these details are overlooked.