The impact of rainstorms on floods in ephemeral channels in southeast Spain

L. J. Bull*, M. J. Kirkby, J. Shannon, J. M. Hooke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents and discusses data on rainfall, stage and estimated discharge for a large flood occurring in two catchments in southeast Spain in September 1997. Rainfall and stage were recorded using automatic logging equipment and discharge was estimated using measurements of channel cross-sections and water depth estimated from trash lines. Total precipitation in the Rambla de Torrealvilla was 50 mm in 2 days with maximum rainfall intensities of 80 mm h-1. Total rainfall in the Rambla de Nogalte was 195 mm in 3 days, with maximum intensities of 200 mm h-1. In the Torrealvilla, this rainfall produced three flood peaks with maximum stage approaching 2.5 m. In the Nogalte, there was only one flood peak, which was 0.5 m deep. Estimated discharge varied widely throughout both catchments with maxima of 120 m3 s-1 in the Torrealvilla and 60 m3 s-1 in the Nogalte. Maximum discharges occurred at times of high rainfall intensity, but intensity alone did not explain why some tributaries had very small discharges. Variations in discharge in the ephemeral channels were due to combinations of lithology, morphology and land use. The predominantly marl catchment of the Torrealvilla had a lower threshold rainfall intensity than the schists of the Nogalte. Within each catchment sub-basins characterised by steep, gorge like terrain and sub-basins where agriculture had been abandoned both resulted in higher flood discharge. The contributing areas for the September storms were up to two thirds of tributary catchment areas. Comparison of rainfall data records shows that the September flood was the fifth largest on record and had a recurrence interval of 7 years. The largest (1973) flood, which is known to have caused substantial damage and a number of deaths, was only a 30-year event. The floods on the Torrealvilla destroyed at least two check dams and evidence suggests that these had little effect on reducing the impact of the floods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-209
Number of pages19
Issue number3
Early online date11 Jan 2000
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2000
Externally publishedYes


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