Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Veronica Webster Griffis


Standard procedures for forecasting flood risk (Bulletin 17B) assume annual maximum flood (AMF) series are stationary, meaning the distribution of flood flows is not significantly affected by climatic trends/cycles, or anthropogenic activities within the watershed. Historical flood events are therefore considered representative of future flood occurrences, and the risk associated with a given flood magnitude is modeled as constant over time. However, in light of increasing evidence to the contrary, this assumption should be reconsidered, especially as the existence of nonstationarity in AMF series can have significant impacts on planning and management of water resources and relevant infrastructure. Research presented in this thesis quantifies the degree of nonstationarity evident in AMF series for unimpaired watersheds throughout the contiguous U.S., identifies meteorological, climatic, and anthropogenic causes of this nonstationarity, and proposes an extension of the Bulletin 17B methodology which yields forecasts of flood risk that reflect climatic influences on flood magnitude.

To appropriately forecast flood risk, it is necessary to consider the driving causes of nonstationarity in AMF series. Herein, large-scale climate patterns—including El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO)—are identified as influencing factors on flood magnitude at numerous stations across the U.S. Strong relationships between flood magnitude and associated precipitation series were also observed for the majority of sites analyzed in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern regions of the U.S. Although relationships between flood magnitude and associated temperature series are not apparent, results do indicate that temperature is highly correlated with the timing of flood peaks. Despite consideration of watersheds classified as unimpaired, analyses also suggest that identified change-points in AMF series are due to dam construction, and other types of regulation and diversion. Although not explored herein, trends in AMF series are also likely to be partially explained by changes in land use and land cover over time.

Results obtained herein suggest that improved forecasts of flood risk may be obtained using a simple modification of the Bulletin 17B framework, wherein the mean and standard deviation of the log-transformed flows are modeled as functions of climate indices associated with oceanic-atmospheric patterns (e.g. AMO, ENSO, NAO, and PDO) with lead times between 3 and 9 months. Herein, one-year ahead forecasts of the mean and standard deviation, and subsequently flood risk, are obtained by applying site specific multivariate regression models, which reflect the phase and intensity of a given climate pattern, as well as possible impacts of coupling of the climate cycles. These forecasts of flood risk are compared with forecasts derived using the existing Bulletin 17B model; large differences in the one-year ahead forecasts are observed in some locations. The increased knowledge of the inherent structure of AMF series and an improved understanding of physical and/or climatic causes of nonstationarity gained from this research should serve as insight for the formulation of a physical-casual based statistical model, incorporating both climatic variations and human impacts, for flood risk over longer planning horizons (e.g., 10-, 50, 100-years) necessary for water resources design, planning, and management.