Estimating dominant runoff modes across the conterminous United States

Brian Buchanan, D Auerbach, J Knighton, Darrick Evensen, D Fuka, Z Easton, Todd Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Effective natural resource planning depends on understanding the prevalence of runoff generating processes. Within a specific area of interest, this demands reproducible, straightforward information that can complement available local data and can orient and guide stakeholders with diverse training and backgrounds. To address this demand within the contiguous United States (CONUS), we characterized and mapped the predominance of two primary runoff generating processes: infiltration‐excess and saturation‐excess runoff (IE vs. SE, respectively). Specifically, we constructed a gap‐filled grid of surficial saturated hydraulic conductivity using the Soil Survey Geographic and State Soil Geographic soils databases. We then compared surficial saturated hydraulic conductivity values with 1‐hr rainfall‐frequency estimates across a range of return intervals derived from CONUS‐scale random forest models. This assessment of the prevalence of IE versus SE runoff also incorporated a simple uncertainty analysis, as well as a case study of how the approach could be used to evaluate future alterations in runoff processes resulting from climate change. We found a low likelihood of IE runoff on undisturbed soils over much of CONUS for 1‐hr storms with return intervals <5 years. Conversely, IE runoff is most likely in the Central United States (i.e., Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Western South Dakota), and the relative predominance of runoff types is highly sensitive to the accuracy of the estimated soil properties. Leveraging publicly available data sets and reproducible workflows, our approach offers greater understanding of predominant runoff generating processes over a continental extent and expands the technical resources available to environmental planners, regulators, and modellers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3881-3890
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number26
Early online date20 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2018


  • contiguous United States
  • infiltration excess runoff
  • precipitation frequency analysis
  • random forest
  • runoff generation
  • saturation excess runoff


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