Climatology of flooding in the United States

2017-03-17T10:01:44Z (GMT) by Gabriele Villarini Louise Slater
Flood losses in the United States have increased dramatically over the course of the past century, averaging US$7.96 billion in damages per year for the 30-year period ranging from 1985 to 2014. In terms of human fatalities, floods are the second largest weather-related hazard in the United States, causing an average of 82 deaths per year between 1986 and 2015. Given the wide-reaching impacts of flooding across the United States, the evaluation of flood-generating mechanisms and of the drivers of changing flood hazard are two areas of active research. Flood events can be driven by a variety of physical mechanisms, including rain and snowmelt, frontal systems, monsoons, intense tropical cyclones, and more generic cyclonic storms. However, flood frequency analysis has traditionally been based on statistical analyses of the observed flood distributions that rarely distinguish among these physical flood-generating processes. In reality, flood frequency distributions are often characterized by ‘mixed populations’ arising from multiple flood-generating mechanisms, which can be challenging to disentangle. Temporal changes in the frequency and magnitude of flooding have also been the subject of a large body of work in recent decades. The science has moved from a focus on the detection of trends and shifts in flood peak distributions towards the attribution of these changes, with particular emphasis on climatic and anthropogenic factors, including urbanisation and changes in agricultural practices. A better understanding of these temporal changes in flood peak distributions, as well as of the physical flood-generating mechanisms, will enable us to move forward with the estimation of future flood design values in the context of both climatic and anthropogenic change.