Simulation experiments comparing nonstationary design-flood adjustments based on observed annual peak flows in the conterminous United States

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Abstract

While nonstationary flood frequency analysis (NSFFA) methods have proliferated, few studies have rigorously compared them for modeling changes in both the central tendency and variability of annual peak-flow series, also known as the annual maximum series (AMS), in hydrologically diverse areas. Through Monte Carlo experiments, we appraise five methods for updating estimates of 10- and 100-year floods at gauged sites using synthetic records based on sample moments and change trajectories of observed AMS in the conterminous United States (CONUS). We compare two methods that consider changes in both central tendency and variability - a Gamma generalized linear model estimated with weighted least squares and the Generalized Additive Model for Location, Scale, Shape (GAMLSS) - with a distribution-free approach (quantile regression), and baseline cases assuming stationarity or only changes in central tendency. ‘Trend-space’ plots identify realistic AMS changes for which modeling trends in both central tendency and variability were warranted based on fractional root mean squared errors (fRMSE). They also reveal statistical properties of AMS under which NSFFA models perform especially well or poorly. For instance, quantile regression performed especially well (poorly) under strong negative (positive) skewness. Although the nonstationary LP3 distribution accommodates most AMS with trends well, the sensitivity of NSFFA model performance to different sample moments and trends suggests the need for more flexibility in prescribing design-flood adjustments in the CONUS. A follow-up comparison of regional NSFFA models pooling at-site AMS would further illuminate NSFFA guidance, especially for AMS with properties less conducive to NSFFA modeling, such as positive skewness and increasing variability.

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Hecht, J. S., Barth, N. A., Ryberg, K. R., & Gregory, A. E. (2022). Simulation experiments comparing nonstationary design-flood adjustments based on observed annual peak flows in the conterminous United States. Journal of Hydrology X, 17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hydroa.2021.100115

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