Journal cover Journal topic
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 3093-3103, 2017
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-21-3093-2017
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Cutting-edge case studies
28 Jun 2017
On the probability distribution of daily streamflow in the United States
Annalise G. Blum1,2, Stacey A. Archfield2, and Richard M. Vogel1 1Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, USA
2U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA 20192, USA
Abstract. Daily streamflows are often represented by flow duration curves (FDCs), which illustrate the frequency with which flows are equaled or exceeded. FDCs have had broad applications across both operational and research hydrology for decades; however, modeling FDCs has proven elusive. Daily streamflow is a complex time series with flow values ranging over many orders of magnitude. The identification of a probability distribution that can approximate daily streamflow would improve understanding of the behavior of daily flows and the ability to estimate FDCs at ungaged river locations. Comparisons of modeled and empirical FDCs at nearly 400 unregulated, perennial streams illustrate that the four-parameter kappa distribution provides a very good representation of daily streamflow across the majority of physiographic regions in the conterminous United States (US). Further, for some regions of the US, the three-parameter generalized Pareto and lognormal distributions also provide a good approximation to FDCs. Similar results are found for the period of record FDCs, representing the long-term hydrologic regime at a site, and median annual FDCs, representing the behavior of flows in a typical year.

Citation: Blum, A. G., Archfield, S. A., and Vogel, R. M.: On the probability distribution of daily streamflow in the United States, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 3093-3103, https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-21-3093-2017, 2017.
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Short summary
Flow duration curves are ubiquitous in surface water hydrology for applications including water allocation and protection of ecosystem health. We identify three probability distributions that can provide a reasonable fit to daily streamflows across much of United States. These results help us understand of the behavior of daily streamflows and enhance our ability to predict streamflows at ungaged river locations.
Flow duration curves are ubiquitous in surface water hydrology for applications including water...
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