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On the Uncertainties of Flash Flood Guidance: Toward Probabilistic Forecasting of Flash Floods

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  • 1 IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
  • 2 Hydrologic Research Center, San Diego, California
  • 3 IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
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Abstract

Quantifying uncertainty associated with flash flood warning or forecast systems is required to enable informed decision making by those responsible for operation and management of natural hazard protection systems. The current system used by the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) to issue flash-flood warnings and watches over the Unites States is a purely deterministic system. The authors propose a simple approach to augment the Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) with uncertainty propagation components. The authors briefly discuss the main components of the system, propose changes to improve it, and allow accounting for several sources of uncertainty. They illustrate their discussion with examples of uncertainty quantification procedures for several small basins of the Illinois River basin in Oklahoma. As the current FFGS is tightly coupled with two technologies, that is, threshold-runoff mapping and the Sacramento Soil Moisture Accounting Hydrologic Model, the authors discuss both as sources of uncertainty. To quantify and propagate those sources of uncertainty throughout the system, they develop a simple version of the Sacramento model and use Monte Carlo simulation to study several uncertainty scenarios. The results point out the significance of the stream characteristics such as top width and the hydraulic depth on the overall uncertainty of the Flash Flood Guidance System. They also show that the overall flash flood guidance uncertainty is higher under drier initial soil moisture conditions. The results presented herein, although limited, are a necessary first step toward the development of probabilistic operational flash flood guidance forecast-response systems.

* Current affiliation: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Corresponding author address: Alexandros A. Ntelekos, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Email: ntelekos@princeton.edu

Abstract

Quantifying uncertainty associated with flash flood warning or forecast systems is required to enable informed decision making by those responsible for operation and management of natural hazard protection systems. The current system used by the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) to issue flash-flood warnings and watches over the Unites States is a purely deterministic system. The authors propose a simple approach to augment the Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) with uncertainty propagation components. The authors briefly discuss the main components of the system, propose changes to improve it, and allow accounting for several sources of uncertainty. They illustrate their discussion with examples of uncertainty quantification procedures for several small basins of the Illinois River basin in Oklahoma. As the current FFGS is tightly coupled with two technologies, that is, threshold-runoff mapping and the Sacramento Soil Moisture Accounting Hydrologic Model, the authors discuss both as sources of uncertainty. To quantify and propagate those sources of uncertainty throughout the system, they develop a simple version of the Sacramento model and use Monte Carlo simulation to study several uncertainty scenarios. The results point out the significance of the stream characteristics such as top width and the hydraulic depth on the overall uncertainty of the Flash Flood Guidance System. They also show that the overall flash flood guidance uncertainty is higher under drier initial soil moisture conditions. The results presented herein, although limited, are a necessary first step toward the development of probabilistic operational flash flood guidance forecast-response systems.

* Current affiliation: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

Corresponding author address: Alexandros A. Ntelekos, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Email: ntelekos@princeton.edu

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