The Propensity of High Standing Islands to Record-Setting Peak Flows – The Case of Puerto Rico

Authors: Carlos Ramos-Scharron*, University of Texas - Austin
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Geomorphology, Latin America
Keywords: hurricane, flooding, peak flow, watershed, hydrology, tropics, Caribbean
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Stones Throw 1 - Granite, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Instantaneous per unit area peak flows recorded in Texas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico (PR) constitute over half of the maximum peak flows documented by the more than 14,800 stream gauging stations managed by the United States Geological Survey. The reasons why PR streams have such a distinction vary from the topographical (small, steep watersheds), to the logistical (high station density; ~7 per every 1,000 km^2) and the climatological (tropical storm and orographic effect prone). This presentation is an initial exploration of hurricane-provoked peak flows in PR over the past 30 years, during which the island’s hydrology was influenced by at least five hurricanes (Hugo, Hortense, Georges, Irma, and María). Even after the powerful 2017 season, Hurricanes Georges (1998) and Hortense (1996) still hold the island’s historical records for the highest per unit area peak flows recorded at 300 and 410 mm hr^-1, respectively. However, during Hurricane María in 2017, about 47% of PR’s gaged landmasses had peak flows exceeding 25 mm hr^-1 and the recurrence interval of flows within 37% of the gauged areas exceeded 50 years. The estimated extent of flooding within 100- and 500-year flooding zones during Hurricane María represents about 2% of the island’s gauged landmass. Even though this number is lower than the 9% of the Houston Metropolitan area that experienced flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, it is important to note that flooding is only one of the various hurricane-related hazards that require consideration in high standing islands like PR.

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