Flood Terms

Aerial Photogrammetry

Aerial photogrammetry uses aerial photographs to produce topographic maps of the earth's surface and of features of the built environment.3

Annual exceedance probability (AEP)

The likelihood of the occurrence of a flood of a given or larger size occurring in any one year, usually expressed as a percentage. For example, if a peak flood flow of 500 m3/s has an AEP of 5%, it means that there is a 5% chance (that is, a one-in-20 chance) of a flow of 500 m3/s or larger occurring in any one year (see also average recurrence interval, flood risk, likelihood of occurrence, probability).

Astronomical tide

The variation in sea level caused by the gravitational effects of (principally) the moon and sun. Highest and lowest astronomical tides (HAT and LAT) occur when relative alignment and distance of the sun and moon from the earth are ‘optimal’. Water levels approach to within 20 cm of HAT and LAT twice per year around mid-summer and mid-winter ‘king tides’.

Australian height datum (AHD)

A common national survey height datum, 0.0 m AHD corresponds approximately to sea level.

Average annual damage (AAD)

Depending on its size (or severity), each flood will cause a different amount of flood damage to a flood-prone area. AAD is the average damage per year that would occur in a nominated development situation from flooding over a very long period of time. If the damage associated with various annual events is plotted against their probability of occurrence, the AAD is equal to the area under the consequence–probability curve. AAD provides a basis for comparing the economic effectiveness of different management measures (i.e. their ability to reduce the AAD).

Average recurrence interval (ARI)

A statistical estimate of the average number of years between the occurrence of a flood of a given size or larger than the selected event. For example, floods with a flow as great as or greater than the 20-year ARI (5% AEP) flood event will occur, on average, once every 20 years. ARI is another way of expressing the likelihood of occurrence of a flood event (see also annual exceedance probability).


Legal lot boundaries.3


The area of land draining to a particular site. It is related to a specific location, and includes the catchment of the main waterway as well as any tributary streams.

Catchment flooding

Flooding due to prolonged or intense rainfall (e.g. severe thunderstorms, monsoonal rains in the tropics, tropical cyclones). Types of catchment flooding include riverine, local overland and groundwater flooding.


The likelihood of something happening that will have beneficial consequences (e.g. the chance of a win in a lottery). Chance is often thought of as the ‘upside of a gamble’ (Rowe 19904) (see also risk).

Coastal flooding

Flooding due to tidal or storm-driven coastal events, including storm surges in lower coastal waterways. This can be exacerbated by wind-wave generation from storm events.

Consent authority

The authority or agency with the legislative power to determine the outcome of development and building applications.


The outcome of an event or situation affecting objectives, expressed qualitatively or quantitatively. Consequences can be adverse (e.g. death or injury to people, damage to property and disruption of the community) or beneficial.

Defined flood event (DFE)

The flood event selected for the management of flood hazard to new development. This is generally determined in floodplain management studies and incorporated in floodplain management plans. Selection of DFEs should be based on an understanding of flood behaviour, and the associated likelihood and consequences of flooding. It should also take into account the social, economic, environmental and cultural consequences associated with floods of different severities. Different DFEs may be chosen for the basis for reducing flood risk to different types of development. DFEs do not define the extent of the floodplain, which is defined by the PMF (see also design flood, floodplain and probable maximum flood).

Design flood

The flood event selected for the treatment of existing risk through the implementation of structural mitigation works such as levees. It is the flood event for which the impacts on the community are designed to be limited by the mitigation work. For example, a levee may be designed to exclude a 2% AEP flood, which means that floods rarer than this may breech the structure and impact upon the protected area. In this case, the 2% AEP flood would not equate to the crest level of the levee, because this generally has a freeboard allowance, but it may be the level of the spillway to allow for controlled levee overtopping (see also annual exceedance probability, defined flood event, floodplain, freeboard and probable maximum flood).


Development may be defined in jurisdictional legislation or regulation. This may include erecting a building or carrying out of work, including the placement of fill; the use of land, or a building or work; or the subdivision of land.

Infill development refers to the development of vacant blocks of land within an existing subdivision that are generally surrounded by developed properties and is permissible under the current zoning of the land. Conditions such as minimum floor levels may be imposed on infill development.

New development is the intensification of use with development of a completely different nature to that associated with the former land use or zoning (e.g. the urban subdivision of an area previously used for rural purposes). New developments generally involve rezoning, and associated consents and approvals. It may require major extensions of existing urban services, such as roads, water supply, sewerage and electric power.

Redevelopment refers to rebuilding in an existing developed area. For example, as urban areas age, it may become necessary to demolish and reconstruct buildings on a relatively large scale. Redevelopment generally does not require either rezoning or major extensions to urban services.

Ecologically sustainable development

Using, conserving and improving natural resources so that ecological processes on which life depends are maintained, and the total quality of life - now and in the future - can be maintained or increased.

Effective warning time

The effective warning time available to a flood-prone community is equal to the time between the delivery of an official warning to prepare for imminent flooding and the loss of evacuation routes due to flooding. The effective warning time is typically used for people to self-evacuate, to move farm equipment, move stock, raise furniture, and transport their possessions.

Existing flood risk

The risk a community is exposed to as a result of its location on the floodplain.

Flash flood

Flood that is sudden and unexpected. It is often caused by sudden local or nearby heavy rainfall. It is generally not possible to issue detailed flood warnings for flash flooding. However, generalised warnings may be possible. It is often defined as flooding that peaks within six hours of the causative rain.


Flooding is a natural phenomenon that occurs when water covers land that is normally dry. It may result from coastal or catchment flooding, or a combination of both (see also catchment flooding and coastal flooding).

Flood awareness

An appreciation of the likely effects of flooding, and a knowledge of the relevant flood warning, response and evacuation procedures. In communities with a high degree of flood awareness, the response to flood warnings is prompt and effective. In communities with a low degree of flood awareness, flood warnings are liable to be ignored or misunderstood, and residents are often confused about what they should do, when to evacuate, what to take with them and where it should be taken.

Flood damage

The tangible (direct and indirect) and intangible costs (financial, opportunity costs, clean-up) of flooding. Tangible costs are quantified in monetary terms (e.g. damage to goods and possessions, loss of income or services in the flood aftermath). Intangible damages are difficult to quantify in monetary terms and include the increased levels of physical, emotional and psychological health problems suffered by flood-affected people that are attributed to a flooding episode.

Flood education

Education that raises awareness of the flood problem, to help individuals understand how to manage themselves and their property in response to flood warnings and in a flood event. It invokes a state of flood readiness.

Flood emergency management plan

A step-by-step sequence of previously agreed roles, responsibilities, functions, actions and management arrangements for the conduct of a single or series of connected emergency operations. The objective is to ensure a coordinated response by all agencies having responsibilities and functions in emergencies.

Flood emergency management

Emergency management is a range of measures to manage risks to communities and the environment. In the flood context, it may include measures to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from flooding.

Flood Frequency Analysis

A statistical analysis to determine the relationship between peak discharge and the likelihood of the occurrence of the peak discharge. This is undertaken based on recorded historical data.2

Flood fringe areas

The part of the floodplain where development could be permitted, provided the development is compatible with flood hazard and appropriate building measures to provide an adequate level of flood protection to the development. This is the remaining area affected by flooding after flow conveyance paths and flood storage areas have been defined for a particular event (see also flow conveyance areas and flood storage areas).

Flood hazard

Potential loss of life, injury and economic loss caused by future flood events. The degree of hazard varies with the severity of flooding and is affected by flood behaviour (extent, depth, velocity, isolation, rate of rise of floodwaters, duration), topography and emergency management.


An area of land that is subject to inundation by floods up to and including the probable maximum flood (PMF) event - that is, flood-prone land.

Floodplain management entity (FME)

The authority or agency with the primary responsibility for directly managing flood risk at a local level.

Floodplain management plan

A management plan developed in accordance with the principles and guidelines in the handbook 'Managing the flood plain'. It usually includes both written and diagrammatic information describing how particular areas of flood-prone land are to be used and managed to achieve defined objectives. It outlines the recommended ways to manage the flood risk associated with the use of the floodplain for various purposes. It represents the considered opinion of the local community and the floodplain management entity on how best to manage the floodplain, including consideration of flood risk in strategic land-use planning to facilitate development of the community.

It fosters flood warning, response, evacuation, clean-up and recovery in the onset and aftermath of a flood, and suggests an organisational structure for the integrated management for existing, future and residual flood risks. Plans need to be reviewed regularly to assess progress and to consider the consequences of any changed circumstances that have arisen since the last review.

Flood planning area

The area of land below the flood planning level, and is thus subject to flood-related development controls.

Flood planning level (FPL)

The FPL is a combination of the defined flood levels (derived from significant historical flood events or floods of specific annual exceedance probabilities) and freeboards selected for floodplain management purposes, as determined in management studies and incorporated in management plans.

Flood-prone land

Land susceptible to flooding by the probably maximum flood event. Flood-prone land is synonymous with the floodplain. Floodplain management plans should encompass all flood-prone land rather than being restricted to areas affected by defined flood events.

Flood proofing of buildings

A combination of measures incorporated in the design, construction and alteration of individual buildings or structures that are subject to flooding, to reduce structural damage and potentially, in some cases, reduce contents damage.

Flood readiness

An ability to react within the effective warning time (see also flood awareness and flood education).

Flood risk

The potential risk of flooding to people, their social setting, and their built and natural environment. The degree of risk varies with circumstances across the full range of floods. Flood risk is divided into three types - existing, future and residual.

Flood severity

A qualitative indication of the ‘size’ of a flood and its hazard potential. Severity varies inversely with likelihood of occurrence (i.e. the greater the likelihood of occurrence, the more frequently an event will occur, but the less severe it will be). Reference is often made to major, moderate and minor flooding (see also minor, moderate and major flooding).

Flood storage areas

The parts of the floodplain that are important for temporary storage of floodwaters during a flood passage. The extent and behaviour of flood storage areas may change with flood severity, and loss of flood storage can increase the severity of flood impacts by reducing natural flood attenuation. Hence, it is necessary to investigate a range of flood sizes before defining flood storage areas (see also flow conveyance areas and flood fringe areas).

Flood study

A comprehensive technical investigation of flood behaviour. It defines the nature of flood hazard across the floodplain by providing information on the extent, level and velocity of floodwaters, and on the distribution of flood flows. The flood study forms the basis for subsequent management studies and needs to take into account a full range of flood events up to and including the probable maximum flood.


The rate of flow of water measured in volume per unit time - for example, cubic metres per second (m3/s). Flow is different from the speed or velocity of flow, which is a measure of how fast the water is moving for example, metres per second (m/s).

Flow conveyance areas

Those areas of the floodplain where a significant flow of water occurs during floods. They are often aligned with naturally defined channels. Flow conveyance paths are areas that, even if only partially blocked, would cause a significant redistribution of flood flow or a significant increase in flood levels. They are often, but not necessarily, areas of deeper flow or areas where higher velocities occur, and can also include areas where significant storage of floodwater occurs.

Each flood has a flow conveyance area, and the extent and flood behaviour within flow conveyance areas may change with flood severity. This is because areas that are benign for small floods may experience much greater and more hazardous flows during larger floods (see also flood fringe areas and flood storage areas).


The height above the DFE or design flood used, in consideration of local and design factors, to provide reasonable certainty that the desired protection is actually provided. Freeboard compensates for a range of factors, including wave action, localised hydraulic behaviour and levee settlement, all of which increase water levels or reduce the level of protection provided by levees. Freeboard should not be relied upon to provide protection for flood events larger than the relevant defined flood event of a design flood. Freeboard is included in the flood planning level and therefore used in the derivation of the flood planning area (see also defined flood event, design flood, flood planning area and flood planning level).


The measure of likelihood expressed as the number of occurrences of a specified event in a given time. For example, the frequency of occurrence of a 20% annual exceedance probability or five-year average recurrence interval flood event is once every five years on average (see also annual exceedance probability, annual recurrence interval, likelihood and probability).

Future flood risk

The risk that new development within a community is exposed as a result of developing on the floodplain.

Gauge height

The height of a flood level at a particular gauge site related to a specified datum. The datum may or may not be the AHD (see also Australian height datum).

Geographical Information Systems (GIS)

A system of software and procedures designed to support the management, manipulation, analysis and display of spatially referenced data.2

Habitable room

In a residential situation, a living or working area, such as a lounge room, dining room, rumpus room, kitchen, bedroom or workroom. In an industrial or commercial situation, it refers to an area used for offices or to store valuable possessions susceptible to flood damage in the event of a flood.


A source of potential harm or a situation with a potential to cause loss.

Hydraulic Analysis

The study of water flow in waterways; in particular, the evaluation of flow parameters such as water level, extent and velocity.


A graph that shows how the flow or stage (flood level) at any particular location varies with time during a flood.

Hydrologic analysis

The study of the rainfall and runoff process, including the evaluation of peak flows, flow volumes and the derivation of hydrographs for a range of floods.


A surface or area within the catchment where the majority of the rainfall becomes runoff e.g. roads, car parks and roofs etc.3

Intolerable risk

A risk that, following understanding of the likelihood and consequences of flooding, is so high that it requires consideration of implementation of treatments or actions to improve understanding, avoid, transfer or reduce the risk.

Life-cycle costing

All of the costs associated with the project from the cradle to the grave. This usually includes investigation, design, construction, monitoring, maintenance, asset and performance management and, in some cases, decommissioning of a management measure.


A qualitative description of probability and frequency (see also frequency and probability).

Likelihood of occurrence

The likelihood that a specified event will occur. (With respect to flooding, see also annual exceedance probability and average recurrence interval).

Local overland flooding

Inundation by local runoff on its way to a waterway, rather than overbank flow from a stream, river, estuary, lake or dam. Can be considered synonymous with stormwater flooding.


Any negative consequence or adverse effect, financial or otherwise.

Manning’s Roughness Coefficient (n)

Variable used in mathematical computations to represent the relative roughness of ground terrain.3

Mathematical and computer models

The mathematical representation of the physical processes involved in runoff generation and stream flow. These models are often run on computers due to the complexity of the mathematical relationships between runoff, stream flow and the distribution of flows across the floodplain.

Merit approach

The merit approach weighs social, economic, ecological and cultural impacts of land-use options for different flood-prone areas, together with flood damage, hazard and behaviour implications, and environmental protection and wellbeing of rivers and floodplains. This approach operates at two levels. At the strategic level, it allows for the consideration of flood hazard and associated social, economic, ecological and cultural issues in formulating statutory planning instruments, and development control plans and policies. At a site-specific level, it involves consideration of the best way of developing land in consideration of the zonings in a statutory planning instruments, and development control plans and policies.

Minor, moderate and major flooding

These terms are often used in flood warnings to give a general indication of the types of problems expected with a flood:

  • Minor flooding causes inconvenience such as minor roads closures and the submergence of low-level bridges. The lower limit of this class of flooding on the reference gauge may be the initial flood level at which landholders and townspeople begin to be flooded.
  • Moderate flooding refers to the inundation of low-lying areas, which requires stock to be removed and/or some houses to be evacuated. Main traffic routes may be covered.
  • Major flooding refers to when appreciable urban areas and/or extensive rural areas are flooded. Properties, villages and towns can be isolated.


Permanent or temporary measures taken in advance of a flood aimed at reducing its impacts.

Peak flow

The maximum flow occurring during a flood event past a given point in the river system (see also flow and hydrograph).


An instrument that automatically records the amount of rainfall as a function of time normally at sub-daily interval.2


A statistical measure of the expected chance of flooding. It is the likelihood of a specific outcome, as measured by the ratio of specific outcomes to the total number of possible outcomes. Probability is expressed as a number between zero and unity, zero indicating an impossible outcome and unity indicating an outcome that is certain. Probabilities are commonly expressed in terms of percentage. For example, the probability of ‘throwing a six’ on a single roll of a die is one in six, or 0.167 or 16.7% (see also annual exceedance probability).

Probable maximum flood (PMF)

The PMF is the largest flood that could conceivably occur at a particular location, usually estimated from PMP and, where applicable, snow melt, coupled with the worst flood-producing catchment conditions. Generally, it is not physically or economically possible to provide complete protection against this event. The PMF defines the extent of flood-prone land – that is, the floodplain. The extent, nature and potential consequences of flooding associated with a range of events rarer than the flood used for designing mitigation works and controlling development, up to and including the PMF event, are normally addressed in a floodplain risk management study.

Probable maximum precipitation (PMP)

The PMP is the greatest depth of precipitation for a given duration meteorologically possible over a given-size storm area at a particular location at a particular time of the year, with no allowance made for long-term climatic trends5. It is the primary input to probable maximum flood estimation.

Rainfall intensity

The rate at which rain falls, typically measured in millimetres per hour (mm/h). Rainfall intensity varies throughout a storm in accordance with the temporal pattern of the storm (see also temporal pattern).

Residual flood risk

The risk a community is exposed to that is not being remedied through established risk treatment processes. In simple terms, for a community, it is the total risk to that community, less any measure in place to reduce that risk.

The risk a community is exposed to after treatment measures have been implemented. For a town protected by a levee, the residual flood risk is the consequences of the levee being overtopped by floods larger than the design flood. For an area where flood risk is managed by land-use planning controls, the residual flood risk is the risk associated with the consequences of floods larger than the DFE on the community.


‘The chance of something happening that will have an impact on objectives’ (ISO 13000:2009). It is measured in terms of consequences and likelihood. Risk is based upon the consideration of the consequences of the full range of flood behaviour on communities and their social settings, and the natural and built environment. Risk is often thought of as the ‘downside of a gamble’ (Rowe 19904) (see also likelihood and consequence).

Risk analysis

The systematic use of available information to determine how often specified (flood) events occur and the magnitude of their likely consequences. Flood risk analysis is normally undertaken as part of a floodplain management study, and involves an assessment of flood levels and hazard associated with a range of flood events (see also flood study).

Risk management

The systematic application of management policies, procedures and practices to the tasks of identifying, analysing, assessing, treating and monitoring flood risk. Flood risk management is undertaken as part of a floodplain management plan. The floodplain management plan reflects the adopted means of managing flood risk (see also floodplain management plan).

Riverine flooding

Inundation of normally dry land occurring when water overflows the natural or artificial banks of a stream, river, estuary, lake or dam. Riverine flooding generally excludes watercourses constructed with pipes or artificial channels considered as stormwater channels.


The amount of rainfall that drains into the surface drainage network to become stream flow. Also known as rainfall excess.


Equivalent to water level. Both stage and water level are measured with reference to a specified datum (e.g. the Australian Height Datum).

Storm surge

The increases in coastal water levels above predicted astronomical tide level (i.e. tidal anomaly) resulting from a range of location dependent factors including the inverted barometer effect, wind and wave set-up and astronomical tidal waves, together with any other factors that increase tidal water level (see also astronomical tide, wind set-up and wave set-up).

Stormwater flooding

Is inundation by local runoff caused by heavier than usual rainfall. It can be caused by local runoff exceeding the capacity of an urban stormwater drainage systems, flow overland on the way to waterways or by the backwater effects of mainstream flooding causing urban stormwater drainage systems to overflow (see also local overland flooding).

Temporal pattern

The variation of rainfall intensity with time during a rainfall event.

Tidal anomaly

The difference between recorded storm surge levels and predicted astronomical tide level.

Treatment options

The measures that might be feasible for the treatment of existing, future and residual flood risk at particular locations within the floodplain. Preparation of a treatment plan requires a detailed evaluation of floodplain management options (see also floodplain management plan).

Velocity of floodwater

The speed of floodwaters, measured in metres per second (m/s).


The degree of susceptibility and resilience of a community, its social setting, and the natural and built environments to flood hazards. Vulnerability is assessed in terms of ability of the community and environment to anticipate, cope and recover from flood events. Flood awareness is an important indicator of vulnerability (see also flood awareness).

Wave set-up

The increase in water levels in coastal waters (within the breaker zone) caused by waves transporting water shorewards. The zone of wave set-up against the shore is balanced by a zone of wave ‘set-down’ (i.e. reduced water levels) seawards of the breaker zone. Wave set-ups of 2-4 m could occur during tropical cyclones.

Wind set-up

The increase in water levels in coastal waters caused by the wind driving the water shorewards and ‘piling it up’ against the shore. Wind set-up can be as high as 10 m in an extreme case, and often exceeds 2–3 m in typical tropical cyclones.

Adapted From

*Glossary entries are sourced from 1 unless otherwise numbered.

  1. ‘Managing the floodplain: a guide to best practice in flood risk management in Australia’, Handbook 7, Australian Emergency Management Institute, Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department, 2013 Second edition ISBN 978-1-921152-33-7, pp. 159-169.
  2. Armidale Dumaresq Council and Paterson Consulting (2005) ‘Armidale Flood Study’, Report for The Armidale Dumaresq Council, pp. i-vii.
  3. Sinclair Knight Merz (2009) ‘Shire of Boddington Floodplain Management Study. Flood Modelling Report’, Report for The Shire of Boddington, pp. iii-iv.
  4. Rowe, WD. (1990) ‘Perspective on Rare Events for Decision Making’, In: Proceedings of a Conference on Risk Based Decision Making in Water Resources, Santa Barbara, California, 15-20 October 1989, American Society of Civil Engineers, (ASCE), pp. 1-15.

Topic contact: hazards@ga.gov.au Last updated: December 5, 2013