Friday, November 06, 2009

USGS concludes 2006 was 1,000-year flood near Tucson

Floods are described in terms of their recurrence interval. A 10-year flood has a 1 in 10 chance of occuring each year. Many engineers and flood planners work with 100-year floods, since this is approximately the length of accurate and reliable observations in the West. However, much larger events can, and do, occur.

After studying the aftermath of the floods that wiped out Sabino Canyon in Tucson in 2006, the USGS has concluded that the event was virtually unprecedented. By dating geological deposits, they estimated that the floods that swept down most of the West-facing canyons in the Santa Catalina Mountains were probably on the order of a 1,000 year flood.

However, with climate change and associated land cover changes on the mountains, that interval may no longer hold. Pearthree, section chief of AZGS Environmental Geology, warns, “increasing fire frequency on the steep slopes of the Santa Catalina Mountains due to invasive species like bufflegrass may result in greater runoff, and possibly increased debris flow frequency, in the coming decades.”

Details, including an map.

Other recent flash floods.

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