Forensic hydro-meteorological analysis of an extreme flash flood: The 2016-05-29 event in Braunsbach, SW Germany

Sci Total Environ. 2018 Jul 15;630:977-991. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.241. Epub 2018 Mar 7.


The flash-flood in Braunsbach in the north-eastern part of Baden-Wuerttemberg/Germany was a particularly strong and concise event which took place during the floods in southern Germany at the end of May/early June 2016. This article presents a detailed analysis of the hydro-meteorological forcing and the hydrological consequences of this event. A specific approach, the "forensic hydrological analysis" was followed in order to include and combine retrospectively a variety of data from different disciplines. Such an approach investigates the origins, mechanisms and course of such natural events if possible in a "near real time" mode, in order to follow the most recent traces of the event. The results show that it was a very rare rainfall event with extreme intensities which, in combination with catchment properties, led to extreme runoff plus severe geomorphological hazards, i.e. great debris flows, which together resulted in immense damage in this small rural town Braunsbach. It was definitely a record-breaking event and greatly exceeded existing design guidelines for extreme flood discharge for this region, i.e. by a factor of about 10. Being such a rare or even unique event, it is not reliably feasible to put it into a crisp probabilistic context. However, one can conclude that a return period clearly above 100years can be assigned for all event components: rainfall, peak discharge and sediment transport. Due to the complex and interacting processes, no single flood cause or reason for the very high damage can be identified, since only the interplay and the cascading characteristics of those led to such an event. The roles of different human activities on the origin and/or intensification of such an extreme event are finally discussed.

Keywords: Extreme discharge data; Extreme event; Flash flood analysis; Forensic disaster analysis; Radar rainfall data.