Getting from here to where? Flood frequency analysis and climate

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Modeling variations in flood risk due to climate change and climate variability are a challenge to our profession. Flood-risk computations by United States (U.S.) federal agencies follow guidelines in Bulletin 17 for which the latest update 17B was published in 1982. Efforts are underway to update that remarkable document. Additional guidance in the Bulletin as to how to address variation in flood risk over time would be welcome. Extensions of the log-Pearson type 3 model to include changes in flood risk over time would be relatively easy mathematically. Here an example of the use of a sea surface temperature anomaly to anticipate changes in flood risk from year to year in the U.S. illustrates this opportunity. Efforts to project the trend in the Mississippi River flood series beg the question as to whether an observed trend will continue unabated, has reached its maximum, or is really nothing other than climate variability. We are challenged with the question raised by Milly and others: Is stationarity dead? Overall, we do not know the present flood risk at a site because of limited flood records. If we allow for historical climate variability and climate change, we know even less. But the issue is not whether stationarity is dead - the issue is how to use all the information available to reliably forecast flood risk in the future: "Where do we go from here?" © 2011 American Water Resources Association.

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Journal of the American Water Resources Association