Controls on Flood Trends Across the United States

Publication Year


Journal Article
Abstract Trends in flood magnitudes vary across the conterminous USA (CONUS). There have been attempts to identify what controls these regionally varying trends, but these attempts were limited to certain—for example, climatic—variables or to smaller regions, using different methods and datasets each time. Here we attribute the trends in annual maximum streamflow for 4,390 gauging stations across the CONUS in the period 1960–2010, while using a novel combination of methods and an unprecedented variety of potential controlling variables to allow large-scale comparisons and minimize biases. Using process-based flood classification and complex networks, we find 10 distinct clusters of catchments with similar flood behavior. We compile a set of 31 hydro-climatological and land use variables as predictors for 10 separate Random Forest models, allowing us to find the main controls the flood magnitude trends for each cluster. By using Accumulated Local Effect plots, we can understand how these controls influence the trends in the flood magnitude. We show that hydro-climatologic changes and land use are of similar importance for flood magnitude trends across the CONUS. Static land use variables are more important than their trends, suggesting that land use is able to attenuate (forested areas) or amplify (urbanized areas) the effects of climatic changes on flood magnitudes. For some variables, we find opposing effects in different regions, showing that flood trend controls are highly dependent on regional characteristics and that our novel approach is necessary to attribute flood magnitude trends reliably at the continental scale while maintaining sensitivity to regional controls.
Water Resources Research