Dominant flood generating mechanisms across the United States

Wouter Berghuijs, Ross Woods, Christopher Hutton, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

220 Citations (Scopus)
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River flooding can have severe societal, economic and environmental consequences. However, limited understanding of the regional differences in flood-generating mechanisms results in poorly understood historical flood trends and uncertain predictions of future flood conditions. Through systematic data analyses of 420 catchments we expose the primary drivers of flooding across the contiguous United States. This is achieved by exploring which flood-generating processes control the seasonality and magnitude of maximum annual flows. The regional patterns of seasonality and interannual variability of maximum annual flows are, in general, poorly explained by rainfall characteristics alone. For most catchments soil-moisture dependent precipitation excess, snowmelt, and rain-on-snow events are found to be much better predictors of the flooding responses. The continental-scale classification of dominant flood-generating processes we generate here emphasizes the disparity in timing and variability between extreme rainfall and flooding, and can assist predictions of flooding and flood risk within the continental US.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4382–4390
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number9
Early online date27 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2016


  • Floods
  • Extreme events
  • Hydroclimatology
  • Catchment
  • Precipitation


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