Flood frequencies and durations and their response to El Niño Southern Oscillation: Global analysis

P. J. Ward*, M. Kummu, U. Lall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Floods are one of the most serious forms of natural hazards in terms of the damages they cause. In 2012 alone, flood damages exceeded $19 billion. A large proportion of the damages from several recent major flood disasters, such as those in South India and South Carolina (2015), England and Wales (2014), the Mississippi (2012), Thailand (2011), Queensland (Australia) (2010-2011), and Pakistan (2010), were related to the long duration of those flood events. However, most flood risk studies to date do not account for flood duration. In this paper, we provide the first global modelling exercise to assess the link between interannual climate variability and flood duration and frequency. Specifically, we examine relationships between simulated flood events and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Our results show that the duration of flooding appears to be more sensitive to ENSO than is the case for flood frequency. At the globally aggregated scale, we found floods to be significantly longer during both El Niño and La Niña years, compared to neutral years. At the scale of individual river basins, we found strong correlations between ENSO and both flood frequency and duration for a large number of basins, with generally stronger correlations for flood duration than for flood frequency. Future research on flood impacts should attempt to incorporate more information on flood durations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-378
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • ENSO
  • Flood duration
  • Flood frequency
  • Global scale


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