Articles | Volume 21, issue 12
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 6461–6483, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 6461–6483, 2017

Research article 18 Dec 2017

Research article | 18 Dec 2017

Does nonstationarity in rainfall require nonstationary intensity–duration–frequency curves?

Poulomi Ganguli1,a and Paulin Coulibaly1 Poulomi Ganguli and Paulin Coulibaly
  • 1Department of Civil Engineering, McMaster Water Resources and Hydrologic Modelling Group, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L7, Canada
  • anow at: GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Sect. 5.4 Hydrology, 14473 Potsdam, Germany

Abstract. In Canada, risk of flooding due to heavy rainfall has risen in recent decades; the most notable recent examples include the July 2013 storm in the Greater Toronto region and the May 2017 flood of the Toronto Islands. We investigate nonstationarity and trends in the short-duration precipitation extremes in selected urbanized locations in Southern Ontario, Canada, and evaluate the potential of nonstationary intensity–duration–frequency (IDF) curves, which form an input to civil infrastructural design. Despite apparent signals of nonstationarity in precipitation extremes in all locations, the stationary vs. nonstationary models do not exhibit any significant differences in the design storm intensity, especially for short recurrence intervals (up to 10 years). The signatures of nonstationarity in rainfall extremes do not necessarily imply the use of nonstationary IDFs for design considerations. When comparing the proposed IDFs with current design standards, for return periods (10 years or less) typical for urban drainage design, current design standards require an update of up to 7 %, whereas for longer recurrence intervals (50–100 years), ideal for critical civil infrastructural design, updates ranging between  ∼ 2 and 44 % are suggested. We further emphasize that the above findings need re-evaluation in the light of climate change projections since the intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation are expected to intensify due to global warming.

Short summary
Using statistical models, we test whether nonstationary versus stationary models show any significant differences in terms of design storm intensity at different durations across Southern Ontario. We find that detectable nonstationarity in rainfall extremes does not necessarily lead to significant differences in design storm intensity, especially for shorter return periods. An update of 2–44 % is required in current design standards to mitigate the risk of storm-induced urban flooding.