Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 1991–2005, 2011
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 15, 1991–2005, 2011

Research article 27 Jun 2011

Research article | 27 Jun 2011

Anatomy of extraordinary rainfall and flash flood in a Dutch lowland catchment

C. C. Brauer1, A. J. Teuling1,*, A. Overeem1,**, Y. van der Velde1,2,***, P. Hazenberg1, P. M. M. Warmerdam1, and R. Uijlenhoet1 C. C. Brauer et al.
  • 1Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • 2Soil Physics, Ecohydrology and Ground Water Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
  • *formerly at: Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • **now at: Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, De Bilt, The Netherlands
  • ***now at: Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract. On 26 August 2010 the eastern part of The Netherlands and the bordering part of Germany were struck by a series of rainfall events lasting for more than a day. Over an area of 740 km2 more than 120 mm of rainfall were observed in 24 h. This extreme event resulted in local flooding of city centres, highways and agricultural fields, and considerable financial loss.

In this paper we report on the unprecedented flash flood triggered by this exceptionally heavy rainfall event in the 6.5 km2 Hupsel Brook catchment, which has been the experimental watershed employed by Wageningen University since the 1960s. This study aims to improve our understanding of the dynamics of such lowland flash floods. We present a detailed hydrometeorological analysis of this extreme event, focusing on its synoptic meteorological characteristics, its space-time rainfall dynamics as observed with rain gauges, weather radar and a microwave link, as well as the measured soil moisture, groundwater and discharge response of the catchment.

At the Hupsel Brook catchment 160 mm of rainfall was observed in 24 h, corresponding to an estimated return period of well over 1000 years. As a result, discharge at the catchment outlet increased from 4.4 × 10−3 to nearly 5 m3 s−1. Within 7 h discharge rose from 5 × 10−2 to 4.5 m3 s−1.

The catchment response can be divided into four phases: (1) soil moisture reservoir filling, (2) groundwater response, (3) surface depression filling and surface runoff and (4) backwater feedback. The first 35 mm of rainfall were stored in the soil without a significant increase in discharge. Relatively dry initial conditions (in comparison to those for past discharge extremes) prevented an even faster and more extreme hydrological response.