Flood seasonality and generating conditions in the Tay catchment, Scotland from 1200 to present

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The new maximum recorded river flows in Scotland since 1988 have triggered widespread interest in whether floods are becoming more frequent and in the conditions that generate floods of different magnitudes and frequencies. There are questions about the longer-term variability in flood-generating characteristics, and whether there are past analogues for present hydroclimatic variability. The present paper builds on previous work reconstructing a detailed historic flood chronology for the Tay, the largest catchment in Scotland, and its tributaries over the past 800 years, extending the gauged discharge record (1952 onwards). It categorizes flood-generating factors in the Tay catchment and analyses the hydro-meteorological conditions that have generated extreme and moderate floods over a historical period. This work is placed in a broader literature context of historical ‘climaxes of storminess’, periods of higher storm frequency, flood patterns observed in Scotland and Europe during the Little Ice Age and longer-term rainfall and temperature patterns. The paper concludes that the variability in flood-generating characteristics is highly dependent on the timescale of observation. Inevitably the relative dominance of winter and early spring flooding can vary from year to year and within specific time-periods, but so can the level of augmentation of the flood series with summer and autumn floods to produce notable ‘flood years’ and flood clusters. The Tay provides a good ‘all-Scotland surrogate’ for historical flood patterns, reflecting its gathering areas in eastern and western Scotland. The value of a historical approach to the assessment of flood seasonality and generating characteristics is clearly demonstrated.

Keywords: Tay; flood generation; floods; historic; magnitude and frequency; seasonality

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2006.00659.x

Affiliations: Geography and Environmental Management Research Unit (GEMRU), University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 4AZ, Email: lmcewen@glos.ac.uk

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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