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Chapter 5 :

Probability Concepts
in Planning

The Annual Flood Series
All projects are planned for the future, and the planner is uncertain
as to the precise conditions to which the works will be subjected.
This uncertainty is countered by making reasonable assumptions and
allowing a generous factor of safety.
The water resources engineer is less certain of the flow that will
affect the project.
Future water requirement, benefits, and costs are all uncertain to
some degree.

The Annual Flood Series
Since the exact sequence of streamflow for future years cannot be
predicted, something must be said about the probable variations in
flow so that the plan can be completed on the basis of a calculated
A widely used data set for probability analysis is the annual flood
series, the highest instantaneous flow rate at a given gaging station for
each year of the flow record.
A reliable analysis requires that all the data in a series be gathered
under similar conditions.

Recurrence I nterval
The recurrence interval is defined as the average interval in years
between the occurrence of specified magnitude of an equal or larger
flood .

Recurrence interval Tr is given by the weilbull formula is

The mth largest flood in a data series has been equaled or
exceeded mtimes in the period of record.
1 +
Recurrence I nterval
If an event has a true recurrence interval of Tr years, then the
probability P that it will be equaled or exceeded in any one year is

From the principles of probability, the probability J that at least
one event that equals or exceeds the Tr-year event will occur in
any series of N years is
( )
P J = 1 1
Recurrence I nterval
Table 5.2
There are 4 chances in 10 that the 100-yr floods (or greater) will
occur in any 50-yr period.
Even a 22 percent probability that the 200-yr flood (or greater) might
occur in the 50-yr period.
On the other hand, there are 36 chances in 100 that the 50-yr flood
will not occur in any 50-yr period.
Equation 5.3 (or Table 5.2) may be used to estimate the risk of failure
during the lifetime of a project when using different design criteria.

Recurrence I nterval
If the design flood for a particular project is to have a
recurrence interval much shorter than the period of record.
Its value may be determined by plotting peak flows versus Tr as
computed from Eq.(5.1) and sketching a curve through the plotted
points(Fig. 5.3).
Statistical Methods for Estimating the Frequency of Rare Events
By grouping data (Table 5.1) in class intervals (in the case of 25,000cfs)
the information may be presented graphically as a frequency histogram.
Frequency histogram of annual flood peaks
on the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Statistical Methods for Estimating the Frequency of Rare Events
With an extremely long period of record it would be possible to use a
smaller class interval, and Fig. 5.1 might approach a smooth frequency
distribution such as Fig. 5.4.
Frequency histogram of annual flood peaks
on the Susquehanna River at Harrisburg,
Statistical Methods for Estimating the Frequency of Rare Events
The ordinates of Fig. 5.4 are probability density and the abscissas are
the magnitudes of the floods.

The ratio of the area under the curve about any magnitudes X1 to the
area under the entire curve is the probability that X1 will be equaled
or exceeded in any year.
Fisher and Tippett (1928) showed that if one selected the largest event
from each of many large samples, the distribution of these extreme
values was independent of the original distribution and conformed to a
limiting function.

Gumbel suggested that this distribution of extreme values was
appropriate for flood analysis since the annual flood could be assumed
to be the largest of a sample of 365 possible values each year .
Based on the argument that the distribution of floods is unlimited, i.e.,
that there is no physical limit to the maximum flood, he proposed that
the probability p of the occurrence of a values equal to or greater than
any X be expressed as

Where e is the base of Natural logarithms and b is given by

e P

( ) o
45 . 0
7797 . 0
+ = X X b
X is the flood magnitude with the probability P , is the arithmetic
average of all floods in the series, and is the standard deviation of the
series computed from

Where N is the number of items in the series(the number of
years of record)

( )
1 (



Log Pearson Type III
In 1967, the U.S. Water Resources Council adopted the log Pearson
Type III distribution as a standard for use by federal agencies.
The purpose was to achieve standardization of procedures.
The recommended procedure is to convert the series to logarithms
and compute the mean, standard deviation, and skew coefficient g,
which is

( )
( ) ( ) ( )
2 1
log log


The values of X for various periods are computed from

Where K is selected from Table A-5 (Appendix) for the computed
value of g and the desired return period.
log log o + =

Partial Duration Series
The annual series is sometimes criticized on the basis that the
second highest flood in some years will exceed annual floods that
are included in the series.
Partial duration series:
All floods above some arbitrary base value of flow, is sometimes suggested as
a substitute.
The two series give nearly the same recurrence intervals for the larger floods,
but the partial duration series will show higher flow for the shorter
recurrence intervals.
The partial duration series should not be used to determine the frequency of
rare events.
Flood Formulas
Fig. 5.5, where peak flow Qp in cubic feet per second per square mile of
drainage area is plotted against drainage area Ad , a few of the higher
floods seem to define an upper-limit line, or enveloping curve (solid line).

If exponent n is often taken as -0.5,
indicating that flood peaks vary
inversely with the square root of
drainage area.

d p
cA Q =
Flood Formulas
Flood Frequency at Points without Streamflow
Few projects are built at the exact spot where a streamflow record has
been obtained. Many projects are built on streams where no record exists.
Several alternative methods have been used to estimate flood frequency in
the absence of streamflow data.
If hourly rainfall records are available, one method is to simulate the
hydrographs of storm runoff for major storms using synthetic unit hydrographs
and adding base flow to obtain an annual flood series that can then be
subjected to a frequency analysis using the Gumbel or log Pearson Type III
Regional streamflow analysis
Computer simulation
Regional Streamflow Analysis
In the regional streamflow analysis the flood frequency at an ungaged point
is estimated from data at nearby gaging stations on either the same
catchment or nearby catchments with similar characteristics.

Frequency curves for two gaging station can be identical only when the two
basins are quite similar. The basins should have
geometric similarity in terms of area, shape, slope, and topography;
hydrologic similarity in terms of rainfall, snowfall, soils, and valley storage;
geologic similarity with regard to those items that affect groundwater flow.
Regional Streamflow Analysis
The frequency curves in Fig. 5.6
represent six basins of the same general
size in the Puyallup River basin.
Although the stations are close together, a
considerable divergence of the curves is
Note that flood magnitudes are expressed in
terms of the ratio to the mean annual flood.
This ratio eliminates some of the differences
caused by differences in basin size and by
rainfall variations between basins.
The characteristics of Eq. (5.4) are such that
the mean annual flood has a recurrence
interval of 2.33 yr.

Figure 5.7 shows the relation between
drainage area and mean annual flood for
the six basins of Fig. 5.6.
Note that one of the points plots off the curve.
This point is known as an outlier, a data point
that possesses some peculiarity that causes it to
diverge substantially from the other data points.
In this case, this basin may have been at a
higher elevation than the others and subjected
to much higher rainfall or it might have had a
relatively small time of concentration that
would result in higher flows.

Computer Simulation of Ungaged Streams
If flow data and hourly rainfall data for nearby basins with
characteristic similar to the ungaged basin and hourly rainfall data
representative of the ungaged basin are available, computer
simulation (Sec. 3.21) is possible.
By simulation, an entire frequency series may be generated and a
frequency curve constructed.
The choice of methods for frequency analysis of floods on ungaged
basins depends on what type of data is available. Budgetary
considerations may also govern.

Rainfall Frequency
Rainfall Frequency
The data set consists of the
maximum rainfall amount for the
given duration for each year over
the period of record.
Employ either the Gumbel or log
Person Type III distribution.
Data sets are combined into a
family of curves (IDF curves, Fig
Useful as providing information
applicable to the rational formula.

Rainfall Frequency
Rainfall Maps and Formulas
rainfall intensity maps
Based on analysis of all available recording gage records.
The maps cover a range of durations from 30 min to 24 hr and
frequencies from 1 to 100 yr.
The maps are reliable in areas of negligible relief but may be
inaccurate in mountainous areas.
The relation between rainfall intensity i and duration tR has
often been expressed by formulas such as

Where the constants k and n are regional characteristics.
Actually only the 1- and 24-hr maps are constructed from observed
data, the others being interpolated by relationships presented in the
If these data plot as a straight line, k is the intensity where tR is unity
and n is the slope of the line.

i =
Conditional or J oint Probability
If two events are entirely independent (unrelated in cause) and their
probabilities of occurrence are P
and P
, respectively, the probability
that they will occur at the same time is P
. Since both P
and P
less than 1, the probability of their joint occurrence is less than the
probability of either event independently.

Because most hydrologic events are not strictly independent, it is
usually necessary to solve problems of joint frequency by direct
analysis rather than by use of the simple product rule

Figure 5.10 illustrates a joint frequency analysis applied to the problem of
the simultaneous flooding of two streams above their junction.
Curves A and B of the figure are the separate frequency curves of
the two streams.
Curve C is a frequency curve for the sum of the two flows
computed on the assumption of complete dependence.
Curve D assumes complete independence so that the probability
of any two flows occurring simultaneously is the product of the
probability that they will occur independently.
Curve E is obtained by adding the flows that actually occurred at
the same time and performing a conventional frequency analysis
on the sums.
Probable Maximum Floods
Probable maximum floods
Since about 1940, the spillways
of many major dams have been
designed to discharge the
probable maximum flood.
The magnitude of this flood is
determined by meteorologic
estimate of the physical limit of
rainfall over the drainage basin.
(U.S. National Weather Service; Crops of Engineers)
Drought is often defined in terms of a fixed period of time with less
than some minimum amount of rainfall.
If drought is defined in terms of inadequate rainfall for crop
production, most of the western United States has a drought every
year, since rainless summers are common in a much of the West.
In general terms a drought is a lack of water for some purpose.
More specific definitions are possible only when local conditions
are specified.
Duration Curves
flow-duration curve
The natural streamfiow characteristics of a
river are frequently summarized in a flow
duration curve.
Such a curve (Fig. 5.12) shows the
percentage of time that flow is equal to or
less than various rates during the period
of study.
If a project for diversion without storage is
under study, the time unit should be the
day so that absolute minimum flows will
be indicated.
Fig. 5.13 compares the Cherry Creek and
Hat Creek duration curve
Cherry Creek offers no chance of
successful development without provision
for storage to provide water during periods
of low natural flow.
Hat Creek could, however, provide at least
100 cfs on a continuous basis for direct
Storage would be required on both streams to meet a demand of
140 cfs, but the volume required for Hat Creek (ABC) is much less
than for Cherry Creek (EBD).
Cherry Creek produces considerably more runoff than Hat Creek
and with proper storage facilities could provide a much higher
The exact storage requirements are dependent on the actual
sequence of flow and cannot be accurately estimated from
duration curves.

Drought Frequency
If drought can be defined in specific
terms for a particular project,
drought frequency can be analyzed
in the same manner as flood
frequency. It is also possible to
prepare generalized frequency
curves of low flow (Fig. 5.14).

Example (p.158)
For example, a small water-supply project requiring 0.9 cfs
(0.025 m
/s) might pump directly from the stream of Fig.

Once in 4 yr, flow would be inadequate to meet the demand (point
A in Fig. 5.14), but if storage were provided for (0.9-0.3) cfs-day =
0.6 sfd = 1.2 acre-ft = 390,000 gal, a shortage would occur only
once every 10 yr.
Synthetic Streamflow
1) It is often important to know something of the probability of
floods or droughts more severe than anything observed on a
2) Because of the difficulty of defining a drought (Sec. 5.11) and
because of the few cases of long-period drought in a short
record, the procedures of Sec. 5.13 are really not adequate for
defining recurrence intervals equal to or greater than the period
of record.
3) On the assumption that streamflow is essentially a random
variable, it is possible to develop a synthetic flow record by
statistical methods.
A random series may be generated by the equation

where q
and q
are the flows in the ith and (i + l)th months from the start of
the synthetic sequence
and q
are the mean monthly flows in theyth and (j + 1)th month of the
annual cycle, and b
, is the regression coefficient for estimating flows in the (j
+ l)th month from the flows in the jth month.
and r
, is the correlation coefficient between flows in the jth and (j + l)th
1 1 1
j j i j i j j i
r t q q b q q + + =
+ + +
Stochastic methods may be employed to generate a synthetic
record of rainfall, which could be transformed to streamflow by
an appropriate method.
Pattison demonstrated the feasibility of using a Markov
process to generated a sequence of rainfall data.
Franz employed multivariate normal analysis to generate
compatible hourly data at several rainfall stations.