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Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5011

Prepared in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency

Climate Simulation and Flood Risk Analysis for 2008–40 for Devils Lake, North Dakota

By Aldo V. Vecchia

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Scientific Investigations Report
2008-5011 PDF (1.7 MB)

Devils Lake and Stump Lake in northeastern North Dakota receive surface runoff from a 3,810-square-mile drainage basin, and evaporation provides the only major water loss unless the lakes are above their natural spill elevation to the Sheyenne River. In September 2007, flow from Devils Lake to Stump Lake had filled Stump Lake and the two lakes consisted of essentially one water body with an elevation of 1,447.1 feet, about 3 feet below the existing base flood elevation (1,450 feet) and about 12 feet below the natural outlet elevation to the Sheyenne River (1,459 feet).

Devils Lake could continue to rise, causing extensive additional flood damages in the basin and, in the event of an uncontrolled natural spill, downstream in the Red River of the North Basin. This report describes the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to evaluate future flood risk for Devils Lake and provide information for developing updated flood-insurance rate maps and planning flood-mitigation activities such as raising levees or roads.

In about 1980, a large, abrupt, and highly significant increase in precipitation occurred in the Devils Lake Basin and elsewhere in the Northern Great Plains, and wetter-than-normal conditions have persisted through the present (2007). Although future precipitation is impossible to predict, paleoclimatic evidence and recent research on climate dynamics indicate the current wet conditions are not likely to end anytime soon. For example, there is about a 72-percent chance wet conditions will last at least 10 more years and about a 37-percent chance wet conditions will last at least 30 more years.

A stochastic simulation model for Devils Lake and Stump Lake developed in a previous study was updated and used to generate 10,000 potential future realizations, or traces, of precipitation, evaporation, inflow, and lake levels given existing conditions on September 30, 2007, and randomly generated future duration of the current wet period. On the basis of the simulations, and assuming ice-free conditions and calm wind, the Devils Lake flood elevation for an annualized flood risk of 1 percent (analogous to a “100-year” riverine flood) was estimated to be 1,454.6 feet for a 10-year time horizon (2008­­­–17). Therefore, without adjusting for wind or ice, a residence near Devils Lake at elevation 1,454.6 feet has the same chance of being flooded sometime during the next 10 years as a residence at the edge of the 100-year flood plain along a river. Adjusting for the effects of wind or ice, which will increase the flood elevations for many locations near the lakes, was not within the scope of this study.

Version 1.0

Posted February 2008

Suggested citation:

Vecchia, A.V., 2008, Climate simulation and flood risk analysis for 2008–40 for Devils Lake, North Dakota: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2008–5011, 28 p.




Purpose and Scope

Input Data for Development of Stochastic Simulation Model

Statistical Properties of Model Input Data

Long-Term Climate Variability for Devils Lake

Stochastic Simulation of Climate and Lake Levels for Devils Lake

Flood Risk Analysis for Devils Lake


References Cited


Estimated Monthly Precipitation, Evaporation, and Inflow for Devils Lake for 2000–2006

Climate Transition Model

Time Series Model for Generating Precipitation, Evaporation, and Inflow

Assumptions Used for Emergency Outlet

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