EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Implications for engineering design of shorter more extreme rainfalls and increased flood variability

Conrad Wasko1, Michelle Ho1, Rory Nathan1, Ashish Sharma2, Caleb Dykman2, and Elisabeth Vogel3
Conrad Wasko et al.
  • 1Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia
  • 2School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • 3Water Research Centre, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Increases in extreme rainfall intensities as a result of climate change pose a great risk due to the possible increases in pluvial flooding. But evidence is emerging that the observed increases in extreme rainfall are not resulting in universal increases in flooding. Here, we begin by presenting historical evidence for changes in extreme rainfalls and floods discussing the underlying mechanisms for the changes, before examining the implications of climate change projections on engineering design.

Extreme rainfall is intensifying universally across the globe with more extreme events experiencing larger degrees of intensification. Simultaneously, and somewhat paradoxically, the magnitude of frequent floods (those expected to occur on average once per year) are in general decreasing, particularly in the tropical and arid regions of the world. We suggest this is likely due to the dominance of drying antecedent soil moisture conditions and shorter storm durations at higher temperatures offsetting any increases in rainfall intensity. However, for rare magnitude floods (those expected, on average, to occur less than once every twenty years) the increase in rainfall appears to outweigh any decrease in soil moisture or change in the temporal pattern of the storm.

Climate model projections, downscaled through a continental scale water balance model and locally calibrated rainfall-runoff models, show that future projections of flood responses follow historical trends – with the rarer the flood, the more likely it is to be increasing. To deepen our understanding, we focus our analysis on event runoff coefficients as an indicator of future runoff changes. Across Australia we find runoff coefficients are projected to decrease, that is, reduced runoff resulting from the same amount of rainfall. These results indicate drier conditions and a compounding of the reduced average rainfall and drier conditions already being experiences in many arid parts of the world.

With these historical changes and projections in mind we conclude with some insights and implications on how best to incorporate the additional uncertainty due to climate change when estimating floods for planning and design purposes. As floods constitute a large portion of the inflows into reservoirs, we suggest that future water resources planning will need to account for reduced runoff yields. To assess the potential impacts of future climate change for planning and design purposes we need to consider how changes to rainfall intensity vary with both storm duration and storm rarity, as well as how antecedent conditions influence the proportion of rainfall that appears as runoff. There remains significant work in adapting our current flood guidance to reflect these historical and projected changes.

How to cite: Wasko, C., Ho, M., Nathan, R., Sharma, A., Dykman, C., and Vogel, E.: Implications for engineering design of shorter more extreme rainfalls and increased flood variability, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-1224,, 2023.