Peak Flow Forecasts

Peak flow forecasts are fundamentally different than water supply volume forecasts. Although the watershed snowpack is a principal component in both analyses, peak flows are not a supply question at all. Rather, peak flows characterize runoff extremes by predicting maximum mean daily flow at a single point during the spring snowmelt season. This extreme is related to the water supply volume, but the relationship is not direct or constant from year to year. As such, peak flow forecasts contain much more uncertainty than water supply volume forecasts.

An even more fundamental limitation is that peak forecasts describe regulated (actual or observed) in-stream flow well into the future, something difficult to do considering the number and changing nature of diversions in the Colorado River and Great Basin watersheds (note: supply forecasts deal with hypothetical "natural" flow - that which would have resulted in the absence of regulation). The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center routinely forecasts regulated streamflow, but only for several days into the future. Further into the future and the ability to forecast reservoir regulation becomes more limited.

Peak flow forecasts are used for different purposes than water supply volume forecasts. Users of these forecasts would include river recreationists, flood control agencies, emergency service directors, wildlife managers and anyone interested in the combined effect of watershed yield and human regulation on the actual (observed) in-stream maximum mean daily flows at a site.

Please note that the flood flows contained in this document change from year to year due to such channel processes as deposition and scouring. Therefore, the flood flows that follow should only be applied to the current runoff season.

Snowmelt Peak Flow Forecasts - April, 1996
Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (
Last Modified: Wednesday, 10-Apr-1996 16:13:08 MDT