Natural Hazards

, Volume 94, Issue 2, pp 605–625 | Cite as

Rainfall threshold determination for flash flood warning in mountainous catchments with consideration of antecedent soil moisture and rainfall pattern

  • Xiaoyan Zhai
  • Liang Guo
  • Ronghua Liu
  • Yongyong ZhangEmail author
Original Paper


Flash flood disaster is a prominent issue threatening public safety and social development throughout the world, especially in mountainous regions. Rainfall threshold is a widely accepted alternative to hydrological forecasting for flash flood warning due to the short response time and limited observations of flash flood events. However, determination of rainfall threshold is still very complicated due to multiple impact factors, particular for antecedent soil moisture and rainfall patterns. In this study, hydrological simulation approach (i.e., China Flash Flood-Hydrological Modeling System: CNFF-HMS) was adopted to capture the flash flood processes. Multiple scenarios were further designed with consideration of antecedent soil moisture and rainfall temporal patterns to determine the possible assemble of rainfall thresholds by driving the CNFF-HMS. Moreover, their effects on rainfall thresholds were investigated. Three mountainous catchments (Zhong, Balisi and Yu villages) in southern China were selected for case study. Results showed that the model performance of CNFF-HMS was very satisfactory for flash flood simulations in all these catchments, especially for multimodal flood events. Specifically, the relative errors of runoff and peak flow were within ± 20%, the error of time to peak flow was within ± 2 h and the Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency was greater than 0.90 for over 90% of the flash flood events. The rainfall thresholds varied between 93 and 334 mm at Zhong village, between 77 and 246 mm at Balisi village and between 111 and 420 mm at Yu village. Both antecedent soil moistures and rainfall temporal pattern significantly affected the variations of rainfall threshold. Rainfall threshold decreased by 8–38 and 0–42% as soil saturation increased from 0.20 to 0.50 and from 0.20 to 0.80, respectively. The effect of rainfall threshold was the minimum for the decreasing hyetograph (advanced pattern) and the maximum for the increasing hyetograph (delayed pattern), while it was similar for the design hyetograph and triangular hyetograph (intermediate patterns). Moreover, rainfall thresholds with short time spans were more suitable for early flood warning, especially in small rural catchments with humid climatic characteristics. This study was expected to provide insights into flash flood disaster forecasting and early warning in mountainous regions, and scientific references for the implementation of flash flood disaster prevention in China.


Flash floods China Flash Flood-Hydrological Modeling System Rainfall threshold Antecedent soil moisture Rainfall temporal pattern 



This study was supported by Key Laboratory of Water Cycle and Related Land Surface Processes, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. WL2017002), China National Flash Flood Disaster Prevention and Control Project (126301001000150068), the China Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (No. 2014041) and the Program for “Bingwei” Excellent Talents in IGSNRR CAS (No. 2015RC201). Thanks also to the Editor and the anonymous referees for their constructive comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiaoyan Zhai
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Liang Guo
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ronghua Liu
    • 2
    • 3
  • Yongyong Zhang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Water Cycle and Related Land Surface Processes, Institute of Geographic Science and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower ResearchBeijingChina
  3. 3.Research Center on Flood and Drought Disaster Reduction of the Ministry of Water ResourcesBeijingChina

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